Chek Lap Kok plan considered too small

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 12:00am

An industry group has called on the Government to double the size of the proposed HK$4 billion exhibition centre at Chek Lap Kok, saying a new facility, bigger than the one in Wan Chai, is needed urgently.

Louis Cheng Teong-meng, chairman of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Organisers' and Suppliers' Association, said the proposal for a 538,000 square feet facility was useless given the constraints already being faced by event organisers at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mr Cheng said to build a smaller facility when space was already so short would be like building a smaller airport than Kai Tak at Chek Lap Kok.

'Kai Tak was out of space, so would it have made sense if we had built an even smaller airport at Chek Lap Kok? Yet, that is exactly what the Government and the Airport Authority are proposing,' he said.

Under the proposal, a 538,000 sq ft facility would be built at Chek Lap Kok by 2005 as the first phase of an exhibition and commercial centre, to be later expanded to 860,000 sq ft.

The Government budgeted HK$2 billion to help start the project and has been searching for a private-sector partner to contribute an additional HK$2 billion to complete the development of the first phase.

Providing land for the project has been made the Airport Authority's responsibility, for which it will receive a 10 per cent stake in the project.

However, the project hit a snag before Christmas when the Legislative Council refused to approve spending on the project based on the existing plans.

Invest Hong Kong, the Government agency overseeing the project, agreed to amend the plan for return to the legislature for funding approval soon.

'We don't want to sound negative or critical about the project, since it's something that we support and feel that is needed by the community. We just want to make sure that the Government spends its money wisely,' Mr Cheng said.

There was a long waiting list at the convention centre in Wan Chai and the industry had already outgrown that facility's almost 700,000 sq ft, he said.

'There is demand for an [860,000 to 970,000 sq ft] facility right now. But we feel the [Trade Development Council's] proposals to expand the [Wan Chai centre] are unrealistic given the traffic congestion in Wan Chai,' Mr Cheng said.

Bernardy Lau, Greater China managing director of Reed Exhibitions, said the lack of space was stifling the development of the exhibition industry in Hong Kong, which was a large contributor to tourism.

'We don't develop new shows in Hong Kong because of the high cost and the lack of space,' she said.

Exacerbating the problem was the lack of public consultation by the Airport Authority, Mr Cheng said. 'We were basically approached by the authority after the plans had been completed and asked what we thought. But by then, it was too late to change anything,' he said.

While acknowledging that the association was not basing its arguments on formal studies, he said: 'We see no reason why a [one million sq ft] facility cannot be built for the HK$2 billion that the Government has budgeted for the project.'

By comparison, the 645,000 sq ft Singapore Expo had only HK$1 billion in construction costs, Mr Cheng said.

An Airport Authority spokesman said the plans were developed based on 'a study done about a year ago, which showed that [538,000 sq ft] would be the most economically viable size'.