Hong Kong handover: New uses for an old home

Government House, the home and office of successive Hong Kong governors, will not become a "museum of colonial atrocities" as the outgoing Governor Chris Patten liked to joke. Instead it will be a mixture of an official guest house, a place for formal government occasions and parts of it might well be opened to the public.

Tung Chee-hwa, Mr Patten's successor, has declined to live there because he fears it has bad fung shui, meaning that its location is unfavourably oriented and could bring bad luck.

However Mr Tung seems to have been impressed by the last Governor's tentative attempts at opening up the house. He made the premises available for charity concerts and opened the gardens at times when the azaleas and rhododendrons bloomed.

The 100 or so staff had been fearful that they would loose their jobs, but have now been told they can stay on although it is not clear what functions people like the tailor and various office staff will perform.

Mr Tung is not even intending to have an office in Government House. He prefers to operate from the 1960s municipal town hall-style Government Secretariat down the hill. This involves kicking both the Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary out of their offices to create a new suite of rooms for the top man.

Government House, built in 1855 and briefly occupied by the commander of the Japanese forces during the Second World War, is seen as just that bit too colonial for the new order. It is remarkably similar to other colonial buildings in the Far East and, by Hong Kong standards, is remarkably old.

Were the new order keen to raise some cash they might consider releasing this prime property for redevelopment. It would be sure to fetch a price somewhere in the outer stratosphere.