Community & Education Hong Kong

Two historic staircases missing from partially collapsed Tai Kwun building’s restoration plan – concern group

The recovery plan for a partially collapsed building at the Tai Kwun compound is problematic as two historic staircases are missing from it, a concern group has said.

The compound is a declared monument and comprises of three groups of buildings – the former Central Police Station, the former Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison.

The wall and part of the roof of the former police station collapsed in May 2016 owing to engineering mistakes. The building, which was the former married inspectors’ quarters, was one of the oldest in the compound. It was built between 1862 and 1864.

Central Police Station

Photo: Apple Daily.

The revitalisation project was led by The Hong Kong Jockey Club in partnership with the Hong Kong government. The site opened in May as an arts and culture hub, but the fourth block remained closed due to the damage.

The Jockey Club, which is responsible for the compound, submitted a recovery plan to the Antiquities Advisory Board last week.

Katty Law of the Central and Western Concern Group said its members attended the meeting on Thursday. She expressed doubts that the Jockey Club was telling the truth about two sets of steps – one wooden and one made of granite.

Katty Law Tanya Chan

Katty Law and Tanya Chan. Photo: inmediahk.net.

The group said the two staircases were important parts of the building that should remain under the Heritage Impact Assessment issued in 2011.

At the meeting, an architect representing the Jockey Club said the granite staircase no longer existed after the collapse, as it was broken into pieces and put into storage, according to the concern group.

Tai Kwun recovery plan

Tai Kwun recovery plan. Photo: Tai Kwun.

The architect said a new spiral staircase will replace the destroyed steps, but they did not disclose the whereabouts of the wooden staircase, according to the group.

According to the Jockey Club’s submission, the salvaged materials do not meet the safety requirements for structural works, and plans are being developed to use the materials for non-structural or decorative work.

Tai Kwun recovery plan

Tai Kwun recovery plan. Photo: Tai Kwun.

“Pending engineering feasibility, the granite stones on the remaining section of the staircase can be reused on the new staircase in Block 4,” it said. “[S]ubject to further government review on fire safety, existing timber can be reused wherever possible in the new stair.”

Staircases undamaged?

But Katty Law said there was evidence showing that the two staircases were not damaged. She cited evidence including independent reports written by the Jockey Club and the Buildings Department, which did not mention damage to the staircases. She also collected news photos taken at the time showing the undamaged staircases.

Tai Kwun

A photo shown at the press conference from news site HK01 showing the granite staircase after the collapse of Tai Kwun’s Block 4. Photo: inmediahk.net

Law, appearing at a press conference with Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan on Tuesday, said the authorities must investigate whether the Jockey Club’s architect was telling the truth.

“It was unfortunate that Block 4 partially collapsed due to human error, but there would be more damage if it did not receive the necessary respect during the recovery process,” she said.

Tai Kwun

Tai Kwun. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Law also questioned the plan’s addition of a large glass window in the veranda: “Can this new decoration pass the preservation requirement for a declared monument?”

Law said the Jockey Club should reveal all the materials for the recovery plan and invite the public to participate in formulating the plan.

In response, the Jockey Club said the granite staircase survived after the collapse, but its structure was not safe after the collapse and required support using steel frames. It said it has caused serious effect on its appearance and would block the public from using the staircase.

The Jockey Club said it recommended removing the remaining parts of the staircase and use the granite materials in a new staircase or other locations of the building, but added that it welcomed public opinion as the final decision has yet to be made.

Two historic staircases missing from partially collapsed Tai Kwun building's restoration plan - concern group