The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is under pressure to increase the weighting it gives to cost when selecting winners of arts facilities competitions, meaning cheaper designs will stand a better chance of winning.
In a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, the statutory authority and Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing were urged to disclose the updated cost of building the 40-hectare arts hub in West Kowloon by July, after the cost of building the first venue - the Xiqu Centre - doubled from its original estimate of HK$1.3 billion to HK$2.7 billion.
The authority's board members and university professors had speculated that the HK$21.6 billion endowment approved in 2007 would no longer be enough to complete the original master plan, due to the significant rise in construction costs.
And their speculation was proved right when in December the authority announced that the winning design for the Xiqu Centre, a performance venue for Chinese operas, would cost twice the estimate made in 2008. It led to further speculation that the cost of the whole arts hub project would also double.
The authority said this was largely due to the rise in construction costs and partly due to the extra facilities added into the design, including space for leisure and education.
But culture and sports constituency lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who serves on the board, said the financial risk was already beyond the authority's control and the government should help seek a solution. "I'm so worried," he said. "All the money could be spent after completing the M+ [a flagship museum for visual arts] and the park." The arts hub will have 15 venues in all.
Despite Tsang's reply that the government would closely monitor the authority's cost control, lawmakers on the joint panel monitoring the project yesterday urged the authority to consider increasing the weighting of the cost when selecting the winning designs for future arts venues.
Cost constituted only 10 per cent of the score in selecting the Xiqu Centre design, which the government said was consistent with international practice.
"We don't see any mechanism in place to control the construction cost," said Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing. "The public feels that they have already paid a large sum of money, and the government has to be a good gatekeeper."
"The government should consider adjusting the weighting. I know it isn't easy as the arts hub must also be a world-class venue," said lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen.
Tsang said he would ask the board to consider their view, but that there were two sides to consider. "How much weighting should be given to cost? Selecting cheaper designs may have negative impacts," he said.
Solutions to cover the rise in costs the authority is considering include asking for donations, selling naming rights and engaging the private sector to build it.