12 firms have chance in West Kowloon
Donald Tsang blames miscommunication for perceptions of bias in bidding for the $24b project
At least 12 local property developers have the skills and financial strength to bid for the $24 billion West Kowloon cultural hub project, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said yesterday.
He admitted that miscommunication by the government may have been to blame for the perception that the bidding requirements had been tailored so that only the big two developers in Hong Kong - Cheung Kong Holdings and Sun Hung Kai Properties - were eligible.
Officials explained that one of the most stringent requirements, that bidders have experience in developing projects worth more than $3 billion over the past 15 years, included work undertaken overseas or by subsidiaries. Deputy Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Thomas Tso Man-tai said: 'We did a rough estimation - at least 12 developers in Hong Kong meet our requirements.'
It was the first time the government had released such estimates. Hung Lung Group chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung had previously criticised the government for discriminating against small and medium-sized developers in the West Kowloon bidding process.
The scheme aims to transform the district into an arts and cultural zone, with museums, theatres, and residential, commercial and public areas. Construction is to be completed in stages from 2010.
The government will offer a single contract for the development of the 40-hectare site. The consortium that wins the contract will have the right to manage the area, twice the size of Taikoo Shing, for 30 years.
Mr Tsang yesterday denied he was backing down in the face of pressure and said 'we made no changes' to the tendering requirements.
When asked how the wrong impression had been created about the bidding requirements, Mr Tsang said: 'Maybe it was because we didn't explain the details clearly.'
The government's plan for a single, all-powerful developer has been heavily criticised by legislators, artists, architects, planners, civil societies and some developers. The tendering process closes on June 19 next year.
Mr Tsang also said the authorities would continue to consult artists and professional bodies so the project could be improved and to dispel misunderstandings. He said these originated from prejudice and government miscommunication.
More than 100 artists were invited to a government brainstorming meeting on Saturday. They will be asked to express their views on how the government should choose the project's developer. They can also express their views on what sort of museums should be included in West Kowloon. A perceived lack of consultation on the project has been a source of dissatisfaction among artists.
The government has also discussed West Kowloon with the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners and the Real Estate Developers' Association in recent weeks. Consultation would continue until the end of January, Mr Tsang said.
He said the sometimes-strained atmosphere of meetings between him and the developers' association was improving.
The government will also consult youth groups and secondary school students, but a format for this process has not been decided.
The public can express their views via the website of the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau.