West Kowloon Cultural District

Lawmakers want transparency for West Kowloon arts hub rent policy

Lawmakers want the West Kowloon authority to show more transparency in its policy for rental charges for the arts and cultural site

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 3:39am

The body running the West Kowloon arts hub site needs to be more transparent about rental charges, lawmakers say.

It refuses to say how much it charged organisers of this weekend's Clockenflap outdoor music festival, or reveal the rent paid by a couple who recently held their wedding party on the prime waterfront site.

It said the information was "commercially sensitive". Officials would not even explain how the body, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, decides who to rent parts of the 40-hectare site to as it awaits the construction of arts venues including museums and theatres.

The authority, which has been handed HK$21 billion of taxpayers' money to develop the cultural district, leases the land from the government. It reportedly charged HK$10 million for the wedding party on November 17. But it charged festival organisers only a six-digit sum. While neither side will say what that figure was, it was believed to be under HK$1 million.

Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said if a statutory body charged others for using government land that was meant to be open to the public, its revenue-raising strategies must be scrutinised.

"We put public money into the project on top of this huge piece of land, so when they want to raise money to support other expenditure, it should tell the public as a guiding principle instead of being a loose cannon," Ho said yesterday.

"The fee structure and application process should be made known so no favours are given to certain close affiliates. The area must be open to all, not only to those from certain privileged groups."

Ho accepts the need to raise revenue through private events but says these should be limited.

Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing, the former chairwoman of the Legislative Council's finance committee, said the authority must explain what it means by "commercial sensitivity" - its reason for not revealing rental policies.

The authority operates under a special ordinance that allows it to develop the site into an "integrated arts and cultural district". Under this umbrella aim, it must provide free public access to the common areas of the land.

A spokeswoman for the authority said its rents were based on "prevailing market conditions and rates of similar venues".

They also took into account the size and nature of an event and if it was a profit-making venture. Discounts and priority were given to arts or cultural events, she said.

She declined to give details of pricing or rental revenue. "It would be misleading for us to disclose exact figures," she said.

The authority confirmed the site was leased at the "full market rate" for a private wedding but would not verify reports it pocketed HK$10 million. Cultural events apparently pay less than HK$1 million. The Home Affairs Bureau, which oversees the authority, says arts, cultural and community events receive priority and discounts.