The campaign to save the old Star Ferry pier was dealt a potentially fatal blow Wednesday as the government ruled out declaring the pier a monument or a graded historical building worthy of preservation.
The news came as a human chain of protesters surrounding the Star Ferry clock tower was breached by contractors who proceeded to erect scaffolding in preparation for its demolition.
Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping told the Legislative Council a heritage impact assessment for the Central reclamation in 2001 recommended the relocation of the Star Ferry, and relocation was approved by the Antiquities Advisory Board in 2002.
"[So] we would not reconsider declaring the Star Ferry pier a monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance," he said.
Ho said the government had compiled a catalogue of 3D images of the pier and would consider preserving historical items for future display, for example donating the clock face and machinery to the Museum of History.
His comments were made in response to a question tabled in Legco by Choy So-yuk, asking whether there was a minimum age for classification as a historical building.
Choy said at an earlier meeting of Legco's home affairs panel she had been told the Star Ferry pier could not be considered as it was less than 50 years since it opened in 1958. But since construction of the pier began in 1955, the pier is arguably 51 years old.
"When we talk about Legco's home, we always say it is more than 100 years old because construction started in 1900, but in fact, it opened in 1912," Choy said.
But Ho said there was no minimum age "for declaration as a monument under the ordinance."
"Before, it was because it isn't old enough, now it hasn't got enough architectural value. They are deceiving the heavens to cross the sea," Choy said.
Martin Wan Kwok-wai, campaign officer at the Conservancy Association, said the pier could be saved if the government was willing to make a 10-20 meter detour with the planned three-kilometer-long Central-Wan Chai Bypass.
"We have sent a letter to the Chief Executive in Council urging them to make the small detour. But it has fallen on deaf ears," Wan said.
He urged the government to come up with more transparent guidelines to assess the city's endangered heritage. "At the moment, it's only done on the basis of age and architectural value, which is far too rigid. There's nothing to indicate the value to a community of, say, a street or a district, so many iconic landmarks like the Star Ferry pier or the Wan Chai markets will be lost," he said.
Patsy Cheng Man-wai, director of See Network that has been leading the protests at the pier, said their activists who formed a human chain around the clock tower were too gentle and peaceful to keep contractors from attacking the pier, and had given up by Wednesday morning.
She said an ongoing survey showed 87 percent of the public continued to oppose the demolition of the clock tower, while 67 percent opposed relocating the pier.
"The reason why we're running this campaign is to ask a question - what is worthy of preservation and what is our heritage? But the government has not answered us," Cheng said.
"We have gathered so much evidence from a scientific perspective on why the pier should be saved. We have highlighted its modern architecture, its attachment to the harbor and public opinion. The government did not consider them at all." Cheng said.