Hong Kong lawmakers ‘in dark’ over basement bill
As Legco subcommittee waves through HK$3.6b for controversial feature at West Kowloon culture hub, questions are asked over just how much it will finally cost
A request for HK$3.6 billion to build part of an integrated basement at the West Kowloon Cultural District will go before the Finance Committee.
The controversial project, which is bound to incur hefty cost overruns, was approved by the public works subcommittee of the Legislative Council on Tuesday.
The government was criticised by the pan-democrat camp for failing to estimate the total cost of the basementand the development income generated by commercial facilities in the district.
In 2014, the government said the whole basement would cost about HK$23 billion, but critics fear the real cost will exceed HK$30 billion.
As a result, the total price tag of the cultural hub is expected to be more than HK$63 billion, including HK$21.6 billion granted to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in 2008 to cover its main facilities and HK$11.7 billion for commercial facilities.
As the authority has full development rights for the commercial facilities, which will include a hotel, offices and homes, Tanya Chan of the Civic Party called for it to bear the cost of the basement.
She said the authority could make HK$100 billion from such rights.
However, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee said the government did not have an estimate of the income to be generated by property development.
“We can only give lawmakers an estimate by the end of this year,” she said.
The integrated basement, designed to create a pedestrian-friendly environment at ground level, will enable all vehicular traffic, ancillary parking and loading and unloading facilities to be put underground to free up space for arts and cultural use.
About 23 hectares of public open space will be provided as part of the newly added project.
The construction cost was originally planned to be split between the government and the authority but, in June 2013, the former suddenly announced that it would shoulder everything to avoid putting the extra financial burden on the cash-strapped body.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said it was unfair to fund the basement from the public purse when the authority could receive valuable income from property development.
Kwok Ka-ki, of the Civic Party, said: “This is the most expensive basement I’ve ever heard of and the entire West Kowloon project is really a black hole. How come the government doesn’t have an estimate about the authority’s property development income? Do you think I am a fool?”
Nathan Law Kwun-chung, of Demosisto, joined the fray.
“You can’t tell us the estimated income and the final cost estimate of the whole basement. How can you expect us to approve this funding request?” he asked.