West Kowloon Cultural District

HK$25b limit set for revised arts hub plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2007, 12:00am

New proposals for West Kowloon project to be unveiled next week

A maximum of HK$25 billion in public money - most of which the government will get back - will be involved in the revised plan for the West Kowloon Cultural District, tipped to be presided over by former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan.

Details of the proposal will be unveiled in a consultation document to be launched by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing next week. It will be overseen by a new authority, which Mr Hui is expected to chair.

The government will brief members of the consultative committee on the West Kowloon project tomorrow and legislators on Wednesday before making the document public.

Government sources said the paper would state as one of the principles for the development that the project should be financially self-sustaining. Others include that it should be developed phase by phase and that the government should handle the land auction and the cultural project separately. The paper will also spell out how the new authority will operate.

Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai said she hoped the project would win majority support from the public and legislators. She said it would provide diversified cultural activities to the public and tourists and boost the city's cultural development.

The launch of the consultation marks a fresh start for the arts hub, which was first put forward in September 2003 but was shelved last year - after three consortiums had been short-listed - amid fierce opposition to one developer being awarded the entire project.

Sources familiar with the project said that under the latest financial assessment, the government would need to make a one-off capital injection of HK$25 billion into the new authority and expected to get back about HK$20 billion from land sales.

The sources said a financial affairs advisory group under the consultative committee had revised its assessment of the likely land auction proceeds and concluded there would be a shortfall of about HK$9 billion for building the cultural facilities in the original plan.

It had therefore suggested cutting the scale of 'non-core' parts of the cultural venues, without affecting their function or capacity.

A government source said that under the revised proposal the authority would be financially sustained by income from the rent of shopping malls, entertainment venues and cultural activities.

Half of the 40-hectare reclamation is set aside for commercial use and 20 per cent for residential development.

The cultural facilities to be built include 15 performance venues, an exhibition centre and an 'M+' museum, a new type of cultural institution for visual culture.

As the provisional authority will handle about HK$25 billion in public money and deal with the city's cultural development, a source said Mr Hui, as former chief secretary and incumbent adviser of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, was a good candidate for chairman. Mr Hui, who oversaw the project as chief secretary and chaired the consultative committee, has stepped down from his official posts since the new administration began operations in July.

The source said the chairman would have to be impartial, acceptable to the government and have a good knowledge of cultural issues.

The government expects the provisional authority to be set up in the second half of next year if the legislative procedures go smoothly and are completed before summer.