Wan Chai can't cope with future convention centre expansion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am

The chief executive supports the expansion of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Speaking in July, at the opening of the phase two expansion, he said the government was actively examining a third phase. He said government and public facilities would be moved to make room for this project and that the Trade Development Council had made a very strong case for phase three.

Last month, trucks unloading goods at the exhibition centre caused traffic gridlock stretching back to the Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan ('Exhibition deliveries cause traffic gridlock', October 25). And yet three days later the managing director of the exhibition centre talked of the need for further expansion.

In 2004, Designing Hong Kong objected to further expansion on the basis that traffic problems in the area can never be resolved. The Transport Department's submission to the expert panel of the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee confirmed that after completion of the Central-Wan Chai bypass the critical junctions in Wan Chai North will be near capacity and unable to absorb more traffic. Its figures do not count on a third-phase expansion.

It is unsustainable to add ever more activities along Hong Kong Island's northern shore. Hong Kong needs additional convention and exhibition facilities but not in Wan Chai. Last month we convinced the Town Planning Board to amend a zoning in West Kowloon to allow for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) facilities. There is room to expand AsiaWorld-Expo at the airport, or add new facilities in Kai Tak.

Why these are not pursued by the Trade Development Council is revealed in Legislative Council documents. New World Service Holdings has a management contract with the council for the convention centre. A clause states neither the council nor New World shall develop any exhibition facility other than the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

It was signed in 1988 for 40 years and is extended automatically every 10 years thereafter. In 1988, New World got 370,000 square metres of development rights (including the Grand Hyatt and the Renaissance hotels, an office block, apartments and a car park) for free under a 75-year lease in return for building the original 30,000 square metres of the convention centre.

Taxpayers paid for the two expansions - with land and HK$4.8 billion for 40,000 square metres in 1997 and with HK$1.4 billion from the Trade Development Council reserves for another 20,000 square metres in 2009. This tripled the rentable area to now more than 90,000 square metres. New World pays the council a fee of around 8 per cent of sales.

The expansions have guaranteed the council a monopoly in organising trade shows. Imagine what a further expansion of the convention centre will do for the profits of New World and the council. In the meantime, the taxpayers earn themselves a permanent traffic jam.

Paul Zimmerman, founding member, Designing Hong Kong Limited