White elephants? Eight costly Hong Kong projects that left people asking why
The costly schemes range from a statue of a giant goose in Sham Tseng to rain shelters in Quarry Bay that failed to keep pedestrians dry
From a statue of a giant goose to rain shelters that fail to keep people dry, Hongkongers are constantly surprised about how city authorities make decisions about building public facilities. Some, which are supposed to improve the environment, face derision from the public. But at the same time, they could cost taxpayers thousands or even millions of dollars. City Weekend looks at eight such public facilities which are either on the drawing board or have actually been built – despite intense criticism.
1. Musical fountain on the Kwun Tong promenade
Estimated cost: HK$50 million
Details: The government’s Kwun Tong district office says the fountain with its “dynamic lighting, music features and special effects” will help “showcase the vibrancy and glamorous night vista of Victoria Harbour”. The fountain is still waiting for Legislative Council approval.
Criticism: Critics have said the fountain is a waste of resources. A 2015 survey by the Kowloon East Community Concern Group showed 86 per cent of the 1,645 people polled opposed the project. The group’s community officer, Chan Chak-to, said the project would be a burden on the public purse and that a fountain was not related to the district, adding that most people would prefer to see the money spent on medical facilities.
2. A giant goose statue in Sham Tseng
Estimated cost: more than HK$700,000
Details: The giant goose statue in Sham Tseng is a symbol for the coastal community in Tsuen Wan district, where is known for its roasted goose restaurants. Like the musical fountain in Kwun Tong, the giant white bird built on a roundabout was part of the government’s signature project scheme, which earmarked HK$100 million for every district council to carry out projects bringing a “visible and sustainable impact” to the district.
Criticism: The project was slammed as a waste of money. Some internet users said the goose looked uncooked and not roasted at all, which would not reflect the characteristics of the district. Others simply called the statue an ugly piece of art and an eyesore.
3. Rain shelters in Quarry Bay that fail to keep people dry
Estimated cost: HK$210,000
Details: The two rain shelters on Hoi Tai Street were supposed to protect people from the rain. But they were removed in June 2015 as, ironically, their chunky bases made it difficult for people to stand under the roof. They were proposed by Eastern district councillor Eddie Ting Kong-ho in 2013.
Criticism: Residents complained that the shelters were impractical and a waste of public money.
4. Three single-seat chairs on a Kennedy Town slope
Estimated cost: HK$85,000 in total
Details: The seats were part of the district minor works programme, which is aimed at funding works projects initiated by district councils to improve local facilities. The three new seats on Sands Street replaced worn-out single-seat and double-seat chairs.
Criticism: Some residents criticised the project for being “too expensive”. A Central and Western district council document showed the project cost HK$85,000, of which HK$45,000 was for installation. Another issue is that the seats are far apart from each other, meaning users have to sit on their own. Some residents also said the seats should be improved by adding shelters to protect users from the sun and the rain.
5. The installation of lifts for rarely used footbridges
Estimated cost: Each lift for a footbridge is estimated to cost HK$20 million, according to the Highways Department. Another HK$310,000 is spent on annual operation and maintenance.
Details: As of December 2015, the city’s 18 district councils had proposed installing lifts for 53 footbridges under the government’s universal accessibility programme, which aims to provide a barrier-free environment.
Criticism: The auditor found some projects were for footbridges with a relatively low pedestrian flow. The flow at one such walkway in Southern district was just 69 during peak hours, while it was 112 for a footbridge in Sai Kung district. The government suggested providing district councils with “useful information” for making informed decisions.
6. Lam Tsuen wishing tree public square
Estimated cost: HK$50 million
Details: Tai Po district council proposed the square, which is part of the signature project scheme, to attract more tourists to the wishing tree in Lam Tsuen. The project, however, is still on the table, as the Legislative Council has yet to approve funding.
Criticism: The proposed design for the square appeared to be a replica of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Most residents did not support the project, mainly due to the high cost and “tacky” design, even though a Tai Po district council working group had approved it.
7. Sharp stones placed under bridges and elevated highways
Estimated cost: unknown
Details: There are more than 1,300 elevated highways and 700 footbridges in Hong Kong. But areas under some of them remain unused. Sharp stones, planters and giant rocks have been placed in some of the spaces. Critics say the move is to discourage the homeless from sleeping there.
Criticism: Many say these areas could have been used for building community facilities and even transitional housing for those who are waiting for public housing.
8. More than 100 empty and abandoned schools
Estimated cost: Unknown
Details: A 2015 audit report found that 105 of 234 vacant school premises remained empty, including 29 empty school lots still held by the Education Bureau and not returned to the government for land-use reallocation.
Criticism: Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, an advocate of redeveloping vacant school sites, described the situation in 2015 as “a waste of precious public resources”. Concern groups and scholars suggested using the empty schools for transitional housing for those waiting for public housing. The Education Bureau said it was reviewing the mechanism and would liaise with the Lands Department to examine how to handle such cases better.