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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 5:10pm
CommentInsight & Opinion
LEADER

Too late to reverse policy on West Kowloon arts hub

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 4:33am

The public may be excused for feeling dismayed by the latest developments on the West Kowloon Cultural District. The project to build a world-class arts hub faces spiralling costs and delays to the high-speed railway whose terminus is located beneath part of the site. This has prompted officials to consider constructing the HK$23 billion basement in phases, in the hope of delivering a "mini-arts hub" first. But that means key venues for concerts and performances will be delayed, without a timetable for building them.

Cost overruns for major works are not uncommon, particularly when a project spans years. The original HK$21.6 billion budget was approved in 2008, based on parameters that appear in hindsight to have been grossly insufficient. As construction costs soar, adjustments are inevitable.

That said, it is shocking that the 17-hectare basement will now be more expensive than the arts facilities above it. With the impact of the delay to the high-speed railway still uncertain, concerns about the hub becoming a financial black hole are understandable. Vigorous cost controls are needed.

A suggestion that the basement be dropped may hold appeal for some. But the structure will house all traffic and logistics facilities and is the centrepiece of Norman Foster's design, without which there would not be 23 hectares of open space for the public to enjoy above ground. The concept has gone through statutory town planning procedures. It is impractical to push for changes that would effectively send the project back to the drawing board.

More disturbing, though, is the revelation that the HK$21.6 billion is only enough for the first two stages of development. Key facilities such as the grand theatre, opera house and music centre will now be put back to the third phase without a timetable. Yet these form the indispensable "hardware" of the arts hub. The authority should explore ways to deliver them.

It will take years before our arts hub is up and running. Championed by the first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in 1998, the project has been dragging on for 16 years, and the site is still nothing more than a deserted corner for jogging, cycling and some ad hoc events. Building a world-class cultural landmark requires vision and concepts as much as funding and planning. Now that it comes with a steeper price tag, it should be given what it takes to complete it. But taxpayers need to be convinced that any extra funding sought will be well spent.

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This article is now closed to comments

rpasea
Nonsense. The WKCD concept was a white elephant from the beginning. Who cares what CH Tung dreamed of? It is a costly and unneeded project when we have much higher priorities now. Is it a concern over a loss of face for Tung? Hardly a justifiable argument for such a grandiose waste of public funds. Nothing has been committed that can't be changed. Carrie's claim to the contrary is a lie.

Swire's alternative proposal, one that was swiftly binned as not being grand enough, was to renovate and enhance existing facilities located throughout the city. This would have been a great and realistic plan and would have left West Kowloon as a public park. It's time to scrap the current mindset and pull Swire's plan to the table for implementation.
icwu
The important thing is to complete the infrastructure for the train station etc. right. The opera house and others can go in later. Leaving the above ground green for the public is actually a good idea as Hong Kong has too much concrete already. For art lovers, they can go to Macau and Canton as they have beautiful facilities there already. Besides, I suspect, most ordianry folks in Hong Kong don't go to these events anyway. In fact, I have yet to hear that our existing art facilities have been overwheimed in anyway. Frankly, I think the WKCD is for show anyway just like our new government buildings i.e. our government services has gone from bad to worse since we have these new facilities.
pjp
It is high time the government staff that grossly under-estimate these projects, to get them approved, are punished and face serious consequences like dismissal with pensions withdrawn.
Just give us a simple park!
How About
Touche.
.
We managed to stop the Bowtie's packaging of WKCD and Foster's 'umbrella'. In the reboot we might have a decent park with smaller artsy facilities that sits atop a $22B basement that's costing 8% more every year it's not built. We still don't know if the museums and the theatres might be self-sustaining much less when will the break-even year be, and whether HKer will end up footing an annual WKCD subsidy invoice come 2019.
.
I commend the CY Leung on his remedy-action time, notwithstanding the soundness of the policy. But, WKCD is not one of those to act quickly on, you won't get any brownie points here.
.
Stop, reconsider then act. For the sort of money we're talking about spending, all good consultants in the world can give HKSAR multiple buildability options. We'd like the park first, not a bunker!
.
johnyuan
To invest to make city a tourist attraction, in this case setting up an art hub is what Hong Kong government years ago pronounced as a government policy. What followed were design proposals to match the policy. In fact, there were two phases of design proposals with the first phase’s winning design being thrown out. We settled with a mixed design from the various entries adding local design to the international entries.
.
The art hub policy in the policy closer it gets to be implemented, the more a diversified use of the land is added. Not too longer, luxury property development too becomes part of the art hub. In a decade or so of the ‘art hub’ design proposal transformation and expansion use of the landfill where the art hub is to be located seems to escape the attention of the public. Not until few days ago the large cost anticipated for the basement part of the art hub suddenly dropped on the public. The news came that the underground construction cost would be more than what is aboveground. Yet the public still not fully informed what that huge basement is programmed for except there is a terminal for the high-speed rail which is under construction. An official stood firm so as this editorial.
.
Policy is one thing. How it is met is another. The editorial hasn’t make a distinction and blindly grossed over the two. SCMP ‘s editorials read more and more like readers’ postings – including opinions serving no public interest.
pragmatist
Such cost over runs without some insurance or liabilities for certain parties is ridiculous. Who tuns large projects like these? Masters of Naiveté !!
pragmatist
All for impression management. Just another step towards being a tourist driven city. Mals, food and art. What else do we need in HK?
ckretowicz
There would be no face lost if proven experts like Swires - in economically successful developments and promotion of arts are given a chance to help, rather than legions of contracted "experts". By the way public deserves to know up to date costs of running WKCDA vs. the achieved results. If the Back of House of a facility is more than 50% of the total cost then competence of the managing body that approved such project should be questioned. There is a limit of waste that Hong Kong economy can withstand without painful consequences for all of us. And remember the hub will not make money, it will cost squillions to run.
johnyuan
A u-turn in whatever is going on is more than a possibilty but essential for our 'art hub' design for a 'art hub' policy.
r6b
beyond the south end of the rail station, and parallel to the south side of
ELEMENTS, an enormous underground construction project is already
in progress.
Is this the underground connection between the rail station and WKCD that
is now running over budget ?

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