The aging Queen's Pier in Central was Wednesday given a temporary stay of execution when the Antiquities Advisory Board declared it a grade one monument, capping a day of ferocious debate on the issue with the government standing firm on its plans to relocate it.
Twelve of the 25 voting board members supported giving the pier a non- binding grade one status after an afternoon-long board meeting and a public hearing at the Heritage Discovery Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Board chairman Edmond Ho Sing- tin said the status meant the government must make every effort to preserve the pier.
"The government must now have very solid reasons if it wants to demolish the site," Ho said.
He agreed the best option would be to leave the pier intact.
Local Action representative Chu Hoi-dick, an activist who took part in hunger strikes in an attempt to save the Star Ferry pier, declared the decision a victory for the people.
"The government must not treat the voice of the people lightly," Chu said.
But Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung stressed it was not important whether the pier was granted grade-one status.
"There is no direct relationship between the grading and whether we will demolish and relocate the pier. It does not mean we can't do so," Suen said.
He said there remains room for discussion on the pier's future.
"I strongly urge all stakeholders not to resort to the use of force to express their views," Suen said.
He stressed the government will apply to the Legislative Council for funding to relocate the pier at the next public works subcommittee meeting.
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Esther Leung Yuet-yin said the government had no plans to list the pier as a declared monument - which would mean lawful protection for the site - as there were no suggestions from the Antiquities Advisory Board that it should do so.
Diverging views within the board, which Ho admitted, were apparent during the open meeting.
Barrister Laurence Li Lu-jen said the pier was of great historical interest.
"We need to let our future generations know [the pier] was where former British governors, in full military uniform, expressed their authority when they arrived in the territory," Li said.
However, National People's Congress deputy Yeung Yiu-chung disagreed.
"The Convention and Exhibition Center also held many ceremonies, including leadership handovers, of historical importance," Yeung said.
Urban Renewal Authority managing director Billy Lam Chung-lun said the social value of the pier was less significant when compared with the demolished Blake and Star Ferry piers.
But Simon Shen Xu-hui, a research assistant professor at the Chinese University's Hong Kong Institute of Asia- Pacific Studies said: "Queen's Pier's rarity now is exactly why we need to preserve it."
The board meeting came after 17 concern groups had, at a public hearing, overwhelmingly expressed their desire for the government to leave the Queen's Pier intact.
Harbor protection activist Paul Zimmerman stressed the pier was part of a cluster, along with the Edinburgh Place and the City Hall, which must be linked together.
Hong Kong University comparative literature assistant professor Mirana May Szeto stressed the pier represented the people's public space.
"The pier is not just a sign of the colonial past. Diaoyu activists also departed from the pier, and doesn't that represent the love for our country?" Szeto asked.
Earlier in the day, furious opposition from all parties during a Legco public works subcommittee meeting forced the government to temporarily shelve its HK$50 million funding application to relocate the pier.
Medical-sector legislator and harbor protection activist Kwok Ka-ki said the government's decision to apply for funding before the board meeting later in the day was a humiliation for its members.
"It was also an insult to the people and Legco," Kwok said.
Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Rita Lau Ng Wai- lan stressed the timing of the fund application was a coincidence.
Assistant Director of Leisure and Cultural Services Louis Ng Chi-wa stressed that even if the site was pronounced a first-class monument, there remained no legally binding prohibition against its demolition.
Democratic Party lawmaker Yeung Sum took exception to Ng's comment.
"You don't even deserve to be in your post," Yeung said.
Civic Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung accused the government of preempting the funding.
"From the government's attitude you can see there is no sincerity to preserve historic venues," Cheung said.
The hour-long exchange of furious arguments between officials and legislators led to the shelving of the funding plans.
Lau's announcement that the funding application would be temporarily shelved was met with cheers from observers in the conference room.