West Kowloon Cultural District

‘Independent kingdom’ at Hong Kong arts hub ruled out

Hotels, offices and homes decision will not turn West Kowloon authority into a property developer, officials say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 11:56pm

A plan to grant the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) development rights to a giant strip of hotels, offices and homes will not turn the body into a property developer or “independent kingdom”, the government said.

The announcement on Thursday came as it was revealed costs to build the final phase of the mega project have more than doubled to HK$11.7 billion.

A prominent Taiwanese ­cultural critic also waded into the debate on the controversial arts hub, saying facilities must be ­developed while upholding the core values of Hong Kong.

In a surprise move, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying ­announced in his policy address on Wednesday that a total of 366,620 square metres of floor space will be granted to the ­authority through an “enhanced financial arrangement”.

Under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, the authority may jointly develop the facilities with private developers.

In a statement, the authority said on Thursday: “The WKCDA will retain the ownership of the [hotel/offices/residential] portion and upon expiry of the BOT agreements, the control of premises will revert to the WKCDA, thus ­ensuring that the district as a whole remains an asset for the community in the long term.

“To ensure transparency, all development packages ... will be undertaken through open and competitive tendering.”

A slice of the rental revenue will be pocketed by the authority to fund the construction costs of the third phase of the project, which have surged 136 per cent from its original estimate in 2008.

Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee said alternatives such as a one-off grant had been considered, but that would only cover construction bills and not the ­recurrent annual deficit of around HK$500 million.

Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah also dismissed claims the arrangement was a means to bypass the scrutiny of lawmakers and the public.

“The authority is closely monitored by the government as it is headed by the chief secretary with other bureau secretaries as members,” he said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s former cultural minister turned critic Lung Ying-tai said there was need to uphold the core values of the city when handling the planned Hong Kong Palace Museum.

“Treasures from the Palace Museum are sought after by all countries for their cultural value,” she said after a speech at Baptist University. “But the core value of Hong Kong, such as a public consultation on major projects, should be upheld.”

She said there should be “a comprehensive study” of museums and how the new project would fit with them. If positive, a feasibility study should then be held into finances, manpower, visitor flow and so on.

“These are things a mature city like Hong Kong should be doing before the launch of a major project,” she said, warning discussions should stay away from ­politics.

Additional reporting by Chan Kin-wa