A landscape architect has warned planning changes and budget cuts have put at risk the "urban forest" that architect Norman Foster envisioned in his winning master plan for the West Kowloon arts hub.
The hub authority has revealed that only 60 per cent of the park will be green space and its budget had been halved to HK$1 billion, saying the changes were needed as part of an overall cost-cutting strategy
But Patrick Lau Hing-tat, who was on a team shortlisted for designing the park in 2012, questioned whether the authority had gone too far.
"Is a park without much green space still a park? The latest move of the authority deviates from the original spirit of Foster's design," Lau said. "The green areas in Foster's plan cover almost 80 per cent of the park. The 60 per cent is a minimum requirement set by the Planning Department and the authority should do its best to honour the original design. The park is what impressed people from all walks of life."
The park covers 19 of the site's 40 hectares, providing a green belt of thousands of trees dotted with paths, sculptures and arts facilities, including a recently added modular theatre that will seat up to 1,500 people. The authority says the park will be the first part of the hub to open, partly as it's easiest to build.
When the authority's chairwoman, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, announced the revisions two weeks ago, she said the hub's underground structures - car parks, roads and exits for many of the buildings - would be left for the government to build. That is likely to delay the start of construction of some of the facilities.
At the time she denied the original HK$21.6 billion budget had soared to HK$47 billion, but would not give a revised estimate.
The authority declined to reveal how much green space had been taken away under the redesign but said the park's green coverage would amount to 60 per cent, and the park would be delivered in a cost-effective manner.
Lau said he agreed with the authority's view that a costly design does not necessarily mean good design. But an attractive green space is not necessarily expensive.
"If the authority is willing to give up 'big names' [famous landscape architects], the design cost will be minimal."
Foster's design, selected in 2011, impressed many Hongkongers with its large urban park containing 5,000 trees - which he described as resembling Central Park in New York.
The design also honoured an unrealised promise of the government when it had planned a regional park for the site under the Metro Plan in the 1990s, aiming to improve the quality of life of those living in Sham Shui Po and Yau Ma Tei.
The authority's spokeswoman said the park's size has remained unchanged but it has yet to come up with the number of trees to be planted.
Tony Tse Wai-chuen, the lawmaker for the architectural, surveying and planning sector, said the authority should ensure the park was a good quality one that the public would enjoy.
"We hope the authority won't be a big spender. Grass could take time and be costly to maintain," he said.