My Take

It's time for a U-turn on the scale of the West Kowloon arts hub

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:49am

There is an old Cantonese saying about how you have to finish washing your hair once you have shampooed it. And officials from Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor down have succeeded in creating the impression that we have gone too far on the "shampooing" to reverse course on the wretched West Kowloon arts hub project.

Don't believe it!

Most of us assume that's the case because we have been bickering over the hub for 16 years. But really, that's all we have done - bickering and planning and delaying, so almost nothing has been done. No or little shampoo has been applied. Lam has warned no U-turn is possible despite the spiralling HK$23 billion cost of the hub's basement.

She says if we want the 23-hectare public open space, we must have the 17-hectare basement. Otherwise, there is not enough space to accommodate key arts facilities on the ground. Besides, she adds, the Town Planning Board has already approved the whole plan. Really Mrs Lam, your government wouldn't think twice to pressure the board to reverse judgments and rezone land sites for whatever purpose. Don't tell us the board's decisions are sacrosanct.

The basement alone costs more than the arts hub's total original cost, estimated at HK$21.6 billion. However, Lam now admits this sum will only cover six to seven venues in phases one and two. God only knows how much phase three will cost us!

Now, let's review how much shampoo has been applied. There are three phases to the hub's construction. Phase one has barely started. Tendering for major projects in phases two and three has not even begun. Of phase one, construction of the Xiqu Centre is scheduled to start in October. Some foundation work for what is called zone 3A linked to the flagship M+ museum may begin this August.

Basically, nothing has started. Contrary to what Lam said, it's more than possible, indeed preferable, to scrap construction of the world's most expensive basement and scale down the facilities in all three phases of the arts hub to preserve open space, which is now being used happily by families for picnics and cyclists to ride on. It would make a great park.