Hong Kong's harbourfront body set to scrap one-off injection of funds

After arts hub storm, authority that will oversee waterfront projects is likely to seek cash injections as needed rather than a one-off payment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 4:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 9:12am

A proposed one-off massive grant to finance harbourfront projects is likely to be dumped to avoid controversy in the future.

Under a new model being considered, the future harbourfront authority would seek funding from lawmakers as needed for major waterfront projects.

"It would be a more sensible approach, learning from the West Kowloon [arts hub] experience," a source close to the Harbourfront Commission said.

The commission, whose members are officials and urban planning professionals, originally proposed injecting billions of dollars into the powerful statutory authority for waterfront projects, a similar model to the arts hub authority.

But the West Kowloon authority, which received HK$21.6 billion in 2008, now faces a major headache as it was forced to ask lawmakers for more cash early this month.

While lawmakers said the authority's budget was running out of control, the surge in construction costs, including HK$23 billion for a basement, also forced the authority to postpone the construction of some major venues.

The idea of setting up the harbourfront authority was backed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address last year.

The authority is meant to have the power to press ahead with waterfront projects, co-ordinating the work of at least 10 departments and involving the private sector to increase its creativity.

The source said the harbourfront authority would still need a few hundred million dollars to fund small improvements to the waterfront. But big projects, like creating a boardwalk under the Island Eastern Corridor, would require separate funding approval.

The commission hopes lawmakers will be more receptive to the adjusted financing model.

"The authority would present a five-year plan to lawmakers with an approximate budget," the source said.

The boardwalk linking North Point and Wan Chai was proposed by the Planning Department as early as 2011. But it has not taken off, with officials fearing it could face legal challenges as parts of it would jut out over the water.

Harbourfront Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke said the proposed funding changes would be included in the next round of consultation from September.

Brooke said an earlier consultation showed the public supported a harbour authority.

People also agreed the authority should start by managing newly reclaimed waterfront sites in Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and North Point.

The ultimate goal is for the authority to manage the whole 73km stretch of the waterfront.

In the next consultation, the public will be asked to comment on the authority's powers and responsibilities.

Issues include how the board should be formed and whether the chairman should come from the government or the private sector.

The commission will also seek professionals' views in the next few months.

The legislation to establish the authority is expected to be submitted to the Legislative Council by June next year.