We can overcome arts hub's difficulties, new chief says
Michael Lynch, chief executive of the HK$21.6 billion arts hub authority, believes it would be reasonable for it to overrun its budget, based on a comparable experience in Australia, his home country.
There, in the western city of Perth, according to Lynch, a three-year delay in the construction of the Perth Arena more than tripled the project's construction cost to A$550 million (HK$4.49 billion), from an original estimate of A$160 million.
The controversial project is now expected to be completed by August, 3 1/2 years later than its original, January 2009, deadline.
The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority has yet to come up with a revised estimate of its own project's costs, for which HK$21.6 billion was allocated in 2008.
But this week a University of Hong Kong academic reported that its budget would fall short by between HK$9.2 billion and HK$16.4 billion, based on current estimates of costs and investment returns.
Although Lynch did not give any estimate of the project's budget shortfall, he said he had discussed some of its difficulties with officials and hoped that these could be resolved this year.
'We have talked to the government about the issues of infrastructure. I hope they will agree to fund these separately,' said Lynch, adding that he hoped the budget problem would be resolved by the end of this year.
The master layout plan, designed by Norman Foster, involves the construction of many infrastructural items including a huge underground structure that can accommodate all cars parked at the site and a reactor that will turn food waste into biogas to provide at least part of the hub's energy requirements.
Government support for the project would be crucial to the hub's long-term sustainability, on both the financial and environmental fronts, Lynch hinted in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
The authority will look at the feasibility of each of the hub's venues and consider having them financed by different methods, which include issuing bonds, public-private partnership and sale of naming rights.
One of the venues to be reconsidered will be the Mega Performance Venue, which has been proposed for the western side of the hub and which is expected to face keen competition from the Hong Kong Coliseum and AsiaWorld Expo.
Lynch said it would be built only if 'we are absolutely convinced that it makes commercial sense'.
'We will not build it ... unless we know it will work.'
On the environmental front, Lynch admitted that the arts hub authority had to be realistic in implementing the 'zero carbon' concept of Foster's plan.
'I'm not going to make silly, outrageous or unrealistic promises about whether we will be able to achieve zero carbon at the outset,' he said. 'But talks with architects and construction companies have found that there is very strong aspiration to make the buildings, public space and the site sustainable.' He said he had never given up the idea of recycling food waste into energy, as proposed under the Foster concept, even though the authority's own consultant, in a technical report submitted to the Town Planning Board, described it as unfeasible.
The obstacles to the food-recycling concept have not been cleared, as the construction of relevant infrastructure, including the big biogas reactor, will need to be financed by the government. It will also require policy support such as forcing residents to sort their waste.
Under the concept, food waste would be collected in the area every day, including the fruit wholesale market and developments in neighbouring Tai Kok Tsui. This will be fed into an anaerobic 'digestor' installed in the energy centre, turning organic waste into biogas, which will power the 'sky rail' running within the hub and the eco-buses connecting it to the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. It may also provide power for the kitchens of its residents and hotel operators.
If successful, the proposal will indirectly reduce generation of methane, a greenhouse gas, by food waste that would have been disposed at landfills, and thereby offset emissions from the hub's buildings. But the concept does not cover emissions generated by transportation.
'People have to be a bit realistic. Forty hectares on top of railway stations will be impacted by what's around it,' Lynch said, adding that the project would be an exemplar for Hong Kong.
Years since the much-troubled West Kowloon arts district was launched