Friday, November 27, 2015   

`Unlikely' project closer with Hilton approval

Joshua Fellman

Monday, September 18, 1995

Joshua Fellman

THE Urban Planning Committee's approval last Friday of the Hilton redevelopment along with surrounding government property, marked the latest step towards starting what originally appeared to be an unlikely project.

When Cheung Kong (Holdings), managing the project on behalf of its subsidiary Hutchison Whampoa, originally proposed the project early last year, it seemed it was unlikely to go ahead.

In a rising property market, it was doubted the government would cut a "sweetheart deal" by giving a private company two of its most valuable sites in Central without competition.


While Beaconsfield House in Queen's Road Central and the Hilton carpark, which faces Garden Road, clearly under-used their sites, other government buildings nearby are also too small for their sites but do not face immediate sale or redevelopment.

The central government offices complex, a cluster of 1950s and 1960s buildings running up the hill between Queen's Road, Central, and Lower Albert Road, is a prime example of this.

A private consultant's study in the late 1980s recommended the site be redeveloped, given that a parcel of ramshackle and unglamorous low rises should not be the centre of government for a high-rise territory with one of the world's largest economies.

However, redevelopment of the site, most likely in some sort of joint venture with the private sector, was put off for what was most likely political reasons. One source close to the government suggested that, given the perpetual mistrust of mainland authorities, Beijing might have been angered by the development, suspecting some underhanded plan to get Hong Kong government funds back to Britain.

"The scheme is probably not permanently dead but it will be up to the Special Administrative Region government to undertake the project," the source said.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) occupies another prime site in Central, the top two floors of the Murray Road carpark, just east of Chater Garden, which, if sold, would fetch more than $1 billion.

The government has found a potential site for the anti-corruption watchdog to put up its own purpose-built headquarters in North Point, but work will most probably not start until next year at the earliest.

Cheung Kong and Hutchison were either lucky or far-sighted to have acquired Beaconsfield House, which, because of its small size, has proven much easier to empty and sell.

One major user of the building, the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers), which had its officers' and NCOs' mess in the building, no longer exists.

The Information Services Department, the main remaining tenant, is almost certain to move into space in the Murray Building vacated by the Lands Department, which is moving to the Pioneer Centre in Mong Kok.

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