..A recent wave of church developments, similar to what has happened in New York, has at least three of them rebuilding sites, sparking debate about urban planning and heritage preservation, as well as whether religious institutions are exploiting land intended for non-profit use.
The Anglican Church plans to build two towers of 18 floors and 11 floors as part of a redevelopment near Lan Kwai Fong. The land currently has historic buildings, including the 166-year-old bishop’s house and a church that was used by Japanese soldiers during the second world war as a training school.
In the deal reached and approved by the government in 2011, the Anglican Church will preserve the heritage buildings at its own cost. The two new towers will be used for facilities including a church, kindergarten and a medical centre, according to a June 2011 government document.
A representative of the church was unavailable for comment on the development.
The Anglican Diocese’s St John’s Cathedral built in 1849 sits on the only freehold plot of land in the city in the shadow of Central’s soaring office towers. Other land in Hong Kong is owned by the government and sold for long-term leases.
“Those land sites that they acquired in colonial times have become their biggest assets today,” said Ng Cho-nam, a former member of the Antiquities Advisory Board, a government body advising on heritage issues in the city. While maximising the value of their land, churches should take heritage into consideration as they had close relationship with the city during its development as a former colony, he said.
Previously, the church partnered with Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong (Holdings) in 1993 to build a residential complex on a site it was using as an orphanage, which was set to be relocated, in a suburban district. The church and its foundation earned about HK$1.1 billion from selling homes and parking spaces at the project, a legal document showed.