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Hotung Peak villa saved from jaws of developers

Dennis Chong

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Peak villa of late businessman and philanthropist Robert Hotung has been saved from the wrecker's ball after the government invoked executive power to conserve the site.

The owner of Ho Tung Gardens, a granddaughter of Hotung, had applied for the site to be redeveloped into luxury apartments.

Surveyors and other experts believe the 120,000-square-foot lot may be worth HK$3 billion.

But Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Ho Tung Gardens must be saved.

It will be gazetted on Friday to list the structures on the land as a proposed monument and prohibit any development for the next 12 months.

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Hotung, born in 1862, died at the age of 94 after being the first non-European to receive permission from the colonial government to live on The Peak. Born to an English father and Chinese mother, he was an influential businessman and philanthropist in the colony.

Ho Tung Gardens, built in 1927 in Chinese Renaissance style, is the only residence directly linked to him.

His son, Robert Ho Shai-lai, lived in it from the 1960s to 1990s. It is now owned by granddaughter Ho Min-kwan.

Lam said yesterday that the government had been negotiating with the landlord over how to preserve the site before contact was broken in the middle of last year. Then the government received an application from the owner to redevelop the site into low-rise luxury residences.

The Buildings Department approved the building plans in December as the application did not violate restrictions.

But it also alerted the bureau, which yesterday decided to propose the site as a monument that will carry Grade 1 historic status.

The Antiquities Advisory Board will decide whether to declare the site a monument within the next 12 months.

Ho Min-kwan had in July last year written to the board to express her disagreement with the idea of Grade 1 historic status for Ho Tung Gardens. She offered reasons including the fact her grandfather had not lived there and that the interiors had undergone considerable alterations.

Robert Ho Hung-ngai, Hotung's grandson, said he respected the government's decision. He added that the site had been owned by Ho Min- kwan - who could not be reached for comment - since 2003.

Lam said the government will explore ways of preserving the site with the owner, including economic incentives. Options include buying back the site or swapping it for another one - as happened in 2008 with King Yin Lei Mansion.

There, the government offered land in exchange for the owner to surrender the 71-year-old building on Stubbs Road.


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