West Kowloon Cultural District

Arts hub chief has to be on the money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2011, 12:00am

Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. A piece of art viewed as priceless by some may, in the view of others, be of little worth. Putting a price tag on our city's ambitions to build a world-class arts hub should be more straightforward. But the HK$21.6 billion cost to taxpayers has long been a subject of debate.

So it is not surprising that eyebrows were raised when Michael Lynch, the new chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, suggested the project is likely to go over budget. Speaking in a Legislative Council meeting, he said its cost would easily exceed the HK$21.6 billion approved in 2008 because of inflation and low investment returns.

He did not say if Legco would be asked to approve extra funding. But new features laid out in the latest development plan, such as underground facilities and green features, including a centralised cooling system, automatic refuse collection and advanced recycling system, are estimated to cost HK$4 billion.

For a project of that scale, it is not unusual for estimates on costs ultimately to prove insufficient. Inflation hit a high of 7.9 per cent last month, the highest in 16 years.

Soaring construction costs have significantly increased the budget of other big projects such as the high-speed-rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Lynch may have found himself in a difficult position, struggling to keep costs under control and needing to explore new sources of revenue.

But he is not alone. Executives elsewhere are faced with the same situation. This is exactly the reason why his rich experience and expertise are needed to realise our arts hub vision.

Politically, it would be difficult for the trouble-plagued authority to seek more funding without showing some initial achievements. Every effort must be made to keep costs under control and to raise funds. We have been waiting a long time for the arts hub and we want it to be a success. But care must be taken to ensure every dollar is well spent.