New water sports centre 'would benefit public'
The aquatic community is ramping up efforts to convince the government to build an international water sports centre at Kai Tak.
Nearly 80 stakeholders will meet the town planning board on Friday to present their case for a fully fledged international course, one which could host an Asian Games and world championships.
'The big question is how good will the facility be? To be of Asian Games standard it will depend on the ability to have still water. How we achieve that will be the question which will be discussed,' said Ian Brownlee, one of the main proponents of the plan and adviser to the water sports associations.
The proposal for an international regatta centre alongside the old airport runway at Kai Tak was first put forward by the three paddling sports - rowing, canoeing and dragon boating - in 2006. It was later updated in January 2010 and has more recently taken on an added dimension with the Waterskiing and Wakeboarding Association also coming on board with a plan for a cable water ski venue next to the Kwun Tong promenade.
The government has been quite amenable to the idea. A leading government official responsible for sports said while the plan had a lot of merit it is being regarded in government circles as separate to the proposed Kai Tak Sports Hub.
'It won't be part of the sports hub which will only comprise the main stadium and two smaller venues inside a huge park. But we are looking at the water sports centre as a separate entity,' said Home Affairs deputy secretary Jonathan McKinley.
Brownlee said: 'We don't care how it happens, as long as it becomes a reality. And I believe we have made a lot of progress in recent months, most importantly with the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD), which has agreed in principle and see no reason why we cannot have a water sports centre.'
But the size and scope of the multi-million-dollar facility will be raised by the stakeholders who will try to get past one last hurdle - the town planning board.
'We have ongoing discussions with the CEDD and everything is looking reasonably optimistic. But the biggest question is whether or not we can meet the requirements to hold an Asian Games or other international standard competition at the venue,' said Hong Kong Rowing Association president Robert Wilson.
The Olympic Council of Asia this week urged the Hong Kong government to revisit a bid for the 2023 Asian Games. OCA deputy general Husain Al-Musallam said Hong Kong would stand a very good chance to host the 2023 Games and called for a bid.
'If Hong Kong has ambitions of hosting the Asian Games, then we must provide an international course capable of hosting rowing. Rowing is an Olympic sport and is also a compulsory discipline at the Asian Games,' Wilson said.
And for rowing, a flat or still-water facility is needed. And herein lies the issue which will confront the town planners - how best to provide such a facility.
To facilitate tidal flow management in the area, the government had originally proposed to remove 600 metres of the old airport runway. This, they say, will allow the water to come in and flush out. The water sports community believes their idea of gates at the end of the runway, which will manage tidal flow, would be better as it then provides for an enclosed facility.
Another issue is a piece of land at the end of the old runway which is about 10 metres into the channel and prevents a straight course of 2,000 metres for rowing. Brownlee and company say partial removal of the 'bulge' would provide a better, and straight, alignment for the rowing course and also allowing each lane to be bigger.
'There are a few technical issues we have to raise and this is what we hope to resolve on Friday,' Brownlee said. 'The government is looking at ways to find a solution so they don't have to cut 600 metres of the old runway and we have proposed a plan. We will also be looking at a road on the runway and requesting the government to reserve the open site for water sports use .... such as building a grandstand, boat sheds etc.
Wilson said in a recent gazette publication, the government had spelled out it plans on how land around Kai Tak would be used. 'But there is no mention of plans to accommodate the water sports centre and this is another reason why this meeting with the town planning board is happening.
Brownlee said: 'Our aim is also to ask the government to include this project in the Kai Tak Sports Hub and make it complementary to the land-based sports facilities. It is all in one area and it makes sense to do that.'
In another move looking ahead, the three paddle sports are on the verge of setting up a National Water Sports Council.
'The government would prefer a single body to manage the water sports centre when it is established, and the council can do that,' Brownlee said.
But Wilson warned the dream was still a long way off.
'The wheels of the government turn slowly. We made the initial proposal six years ago as the Kai Tak area is one of the few places where we can have a sheltered course in Hong Kong.
'What must be remembered is that unlike a sports hub with a huge stadium which is closed for most days of the year, a water sports centre can also provide water recreational facilities for thousands of people on a daily basis. It will be a major public area and one which will benefit the entire community,' Wilson said.