West Kowloon Cultural District

Government urged to drop West Kowloon arts hub basement plan over spiralling HK$23b cost

Estimated cost up HK$13 billion in less than a year, and it might go higher

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 11:40am

The government has been urged to consider whether the costly basement planned for the West Kowloon arts hub should be scrapped in view of soaring costs and likely delays. The call came as officials prepared to place before legislators today a paper showing the estimated cost of the basement and related works has soared from HK$10 billion to HK$23 billion in less than a year.

The cost could go higher: the government said the estimate did not take into account the effect of delays to the cross-border high-speed railway that terminates in the arts hub area, and detailed designs had yet to be done.

Critics - including arts groups and members of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority - questioned whether more taxpayers' money should be poured into construction while only HK$3.3 billion was allocated to arts and cultural development overall in this financial year.

"This will put the arts hub into a financial black hole," Mathias Woo, executive director of arts group Zuni Icosahedron, said.

A West Kowloon board member who declined to be named said that while the government would pay for the basement - part of the conceptual plan prepared by architects Foster + Partners - it had made the arts hub plan look "ridiculous".

"Why do we need an integrated basement? Just like what we asked in the past: why did we need a canopy?" said the board member, referring to the huge cover in a previous design, also by Foster, proposed when the arts hub was to have been turned over to a single developer.

In tabling the new estimate at a Legislative Council panel meeting today, the government will propose dividing the basement project into six zones and returning to Legco to ask for a total of HK$10 billion in four stages from now until 2016-17.

Replying to an inquiry from the South China Morning Post, the government said the rough estimate for the basement if completed in one go by 2020 would be HK$19 billion.

Add in HK$4 billion for the public infrastructure and protection works for the Airport Express tunnel and the bill is HK$23 billion - more than the endowment of HK$21.6 billion to establish the cultural district in 2008.

"But the above estimate has not taken into account the impact of the delay in the Express Rail Link project," said a government spokesman.

The costs of building the Xiqu Centre and visual culture museum M+ cover the building of their respective basement sections.

The government said if it divided the work into different phases, it planned to ask Legco for HK$10 billion - HK$7 billion for the integrated basement and HK$3 billion for public infrastructure works - for the sections of basement on which the Lyric Theatre and private properties and offices are located.

Cost estimates for the basement section located above the rail terminus, which will see a two-year delay, and the section on which phase three facilities will be located are not included.

Another board member said the arts hub should not stick to Foster's expensive basement "[and] neither to the super expensive Xiqu Centre design. So far no budget has been allocated to cultural software development." This person also requested that his name not be disclosed.

Last year the government stated that the "ballpark estimate" for the design and construction costs of all facilities in the arts hub had gone up to HK$47.1 billion.

Some West Kowloon committee members said they were too uninformed to give advice. "Meetings are dictated by those who can speak the government language," said one adviser.

But ridding the project of the expensive integrated basement might not be feasible.

The lawmaker for the architectural, surveying and planning functional constituency, Tony Tse Wai-chuen, said when 23 out of 40 hectares of the site became a park, "where does the traffic go?"

He said the basement was a must but whether HK$23 billion was too costly was difficult to judge because little information was available.

"Where does the figure come from?" Tse asked.

Tse said financial viability had been a problem for the cultural district, which lacks a holistic business plan.