Lawmakers soften stance on extra cash for planned West Kowloon Cultural District

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 3:41am

Lawmakers have softened their stance against putting more money into the West Kowloon Cultural District, with one saying he does not want the arts hub to become a "laughing stock" simply because its cost was grossly underestimated.

They indicated agreement with the idea of using extra land revenue from a proposed increase in development density at the site to boost the arts hub's budget beyond the HK$21.6 billion agreed in 2007.

"Why not use the extra land revenue to offset the rise in construction costs?" Cyd Ho Sau-lan of the Labour Party asked yesterday at a meeting of the joint panel monitoring the project.

Lawmakers had resisted granting more funds because the government had previously ignored their warnings of a serious cost underestimation.

This week a valuation expert estimated that the planned 15 per cent increase in floor area of the space designated for flats, offices and hotels - an increase aimed partly at easing the city's housing shortage - could yield more than HK$5 billion in additional land revenue.

Ho's views were echoed by Ma Fung-kwok, a member of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority board and a former chairman of the joint panel.

Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Raymond Young Lap-moon said the extra land revenue would go to the government account, not the authority.

"But we won't hesitate to inject more money or pay for some construction works if we find it necessary after completing earlier phases of the development."

Alan Leong Kah-kit, of the Civic Party, also a former panel chairman, asked: "Will the extra land revenue allow more flexible funding arrangements for the art hub development?"

He said he hoped the government would give an estimate of the amount of extra land revenue, as a reference for lawmakers deciding how much more money the arts hub should receive in future.

But Young said it would be meaningless to attempt to give a firm estimate, as the government had no timetable for when the extra floor area would be sold over the next 20 years.

Leong, who has been resistant to the idea of providing more money for the project, explained after the meeting why his stance had softened.

"I don't want to see the arts hub become a laughing stock," he said. "But no official has stood up so far and admitted they had wrongly estimated the project's cost."

The government's plan says an increase of 15 per cent in the density of the 40-hectare site would provide extra residential floor area of 22,210 sq m, an extra 25,610 sq m of hotels and offices and 63,230 sq m of ancillary facilities, including a hostel for visiting artists and extra dining areas.

Authority chief executive Michael Lynch said the higher density would have minimal impact on the environment or traffic.