Clock is ticking on Kai Tak stadium
Unless there are plans to employ the 'build-it-in-a-flash' consortium behind the towering Sky City in Changsha, it seems our own sports hub at Kai Tak might not be completed on schedule. But even more worrying than the delay to start work on a state-of-the-art stadium and the surrounding infrastructure is that everything has gone silent in the government's corridors of power.
In early February, Home Affairs Bureau deputy secretary Jonathan McKinley told us that in six weeks a consultancy study would reveal which way the government should proceed with the HK$19 billion project. The man responsible for sport in government circles said the option being studied was whether to involve the private sector or if the government should go it alone.
McKinley said: 'In the next six weeks, the government will know the best way to finance it.' Three months on, we are still in the dark.
The plan is to build a main stadium with at least 50,000 seats, including a retractable roof, plus two other main venues: a 6,000-seater secondary stadium and a 5,000-seater indoor stadium.
We are fully aware time moves slowly within bureaucratic circles, but surely not at this snail's pace.
Over the past three months, we have periodically reminded McKinley first, and then others, as to whether a decision has been taken. After the first reminder, McKinley passed us on to others inside the bureau whom he said were more hands-on with what was going on, but still no luck. We have been in touch with Ella Yu and Agnes Law, who responded immediately but ambiguously.
In April, the answer to an inquiry was: 'Thanks for your concern over the study. As it is still ongoing, I am afraid it is premature to talk about the outcome.'
A fortnight later: 'We will keep you updated on the latest development of the project when ready.'
At the end of May: 'We fully acknowledge your concern and are grateful for that. The project is in good progress and you could comprehend that the financing of a [HK]$20 billion project is a complex issue, requiring extensive work across government departments.' Note that the price tag jumped by HK$1 billion.
My final inquiry was last week, and the reply was: 'Thank you for your inquiry. The project is well on track and we will get back to you when appropriate.'
One would think it is very appropriate that an answer be given immediately.
What the delays have done is fan the flames on all sorts of conspiracy theories. It is easy to cast reason aside, let the imagination take hold and believe that the delay is due to pressure from other quarters for that prime piece of real estate at the old airport.
The rumour, or conspiracy theory, floating around sports circles is that the real estate tycoons want to lay their grubby hands on this site, which fronts the harbour, to build office and residential blocks that they can flog for obscene profits. The talk is that the government will look to give sport an alternative - and smaller - site so it can make a squillion dollars in auctioning off the land.
We hope all this conjecture is wrong and the delay is nothing more than the government being stuck in limbo as it waits for the new administration to take the reins.
Let's hope a decision has already been made on the financing model and that the current powers-that-be at the Home Affairs Bureau, McKinley included, simply cannot reveal it yet or else they might find themselves doing other things under the new regime of Leung Chun-ying.
We are now halfway through 2012. The deadline for the sports hub to be up and running is 2018, which is just six years away. Time is running out.
Well, if that's the case, Hong Kong can always call on those movers and shakers behind Sky City in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan province, who want to build the world's tallest building in seven months. Yes, you read it right - seven months. The 220-storey Sky City is expected to stand at 838 metres - 10 metres taller than Dubai's Burj Khalifa, which took five years to build.
The central government has yet to give its approval. If it does, prefabricated portions of the building will be slapped together, and hey presto, Sky City will go up almost overnight.
Perhaps sections of our sports hub are also being prefabricated somewhere on the mainland and will appear magically.