The fate of the mechanical remnants of the clock tower at the old Star Ferry pier will be decided in a study on the planning of the new harborfront that will start ticking in the first quarter of next year, it was revealed Monday.
Speaking at a special meeting of the Legislative Council's panel on planning, lands and works Monday, Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan confirmed the "cruel reality," the clock tower was already languishing as "filling material in a landfill."
Lau said: "However we are pleased to hear the condition of the clock is still quite good, that the clock and its old chimes are still functional.
"A location for the resurrection of the clock will be decided in a study of the new waterfront that will begin in the first quarter of 2007, so it can be returned to the community."
Visiting expert Neil Brennon Wright of Thwaites & Reed in England - the oldest clockmakers in the world - said he had seen the remains of the clock "in dirty but good condition," carefully boxed up in crates, in plastics bags or tied with tape.
"The clock is made by Dent, a very famous English maker of big and small clocks. It is a high-quality turret clock, quite rare. I have only seen two such clocks in the last eight years," he said.
"There are several bits missing, including a pair of gearings, pinions and the external dials, but it should not be a problem to restore to full working order."
That components are missing is apparently news to curators at the Museum of History in whose care the clock has been placed.
When asked about the government's claim the clock could not be relocated because of "technical difficulties in moving and maintaining obsolete parts," Brennon Wright replied: "Well, that's not my assessment. We have restored far worse than that, it should pose no problems. Replacing the hands may be difficult, normally we have to remake those bits."
Brennon Wright said contractors had done a "good job," salvaging the clock despite the missing parts and it would take several months to restore the clock.
Permanent Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Mak Chai-kwong revealed during a meeting Saturday that the Director of Environmental Protection Keith Kwok Ka- keung had issued an emergency works permit to allow contractors to work through the night to tear the clock tower down.
"Applications for environmental permits are based on the needs of contractors. The reasons were for safety and for continuing works to be carried out. It is not the only case in which a permit has been issued in a day, in emergency situations when necessary we do have such applications," Mak said.
He added that the demolition, started days before, had already begun to affect the structure of the "flimsy" clock tower, making it inherently unsafe.
"We felt [the permit] was the only way to complete the works within the shortest space of time," Mak said.
But this revelation immediately drew outrage from lawmakers and deputations that appeared before the panel meeting.
"I am furious," legislator Chan Yuen-han said. "When conducting works there is always flexibility. Even when there is heavy rain, works can be disrupted for one or two months. And you can't blame Legco for not doing enough to save the tower, the government promised us in 2002 the Star Ferry pier would be reprovisioned, at my insistence. Now its broken down and been sent to a landfill."
Council for Sustainable Development chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak said during a meeting of engineers, planners and architects in 2001, to discuss the consultancy report on the planning of the new waterfront, it was unanimously agreed there were no technical difficulties in preserving the clock tower.
"The only problem for the government is the cost of the project and existing contractual obligations," Lai said.
He said the dismantling of the clock tower was political.
Meanwhile, protesters at the old pier have dispersed after completing 50 hours of hunger strikes at 2am Monday.
Protester Cat Mak Ka-lui, 22, said they would continue the agitation.