Scrapping the HK$23 billion basement at the West Kowloon Cultural District to cut burgeoning costs is not possible, the government says.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made it clear that the underground road system would be retained as she disclosed that the knock-on effect on the arts hub of the delay in building the cross-border high-speed railway could be much bigger than expected.
She said the two-year hold-up in the railway's construction could affect two other arts facilities besides those sitting on top of the West Kowloon terminal - which is now not due for completion until 2017.
Lam, chairwoman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, was speaking at yesterday's meeting of the Legislative Council committee monitoring the development at which lawmakers demanded that the government change if not scrap the 17-hectare basement.
The cost of the basement has now been put at HK$23 billion and this could rise further because of the delay in the railway and uncertainty over facilities in phase three of the district.
The Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan said the government should allow some traffic above ground.
Culture and sports lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, also a West Kowloon authority board member, asked if the basement could be scrapped. "The HK$23 billion basement now costs more than the arts hub's original estimate of HK$21.6 billion," Ho said.
Lam responded: "The plan was chosen after three stages of public consultation. We asked for a 23-hectare public open space from day one, and without an integrated basement we cannot achieve this," Lam said, adding that the plan was approved by the Town Planning Board.
"Scrapping the basement would mean we would have to start … all over again. This is not practical," she said.
The plan calls for the cultural facilities to be completed in three phases. It had earlier been thought that the railway delay would affect only phase-two facilities.
But yesterday Lam said the Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera and the Lyric Theatre in phase one were also jeopardised.
Railway construction works involve the location of an exit of the Xiqu centre - which had been due for completion by 2017 - while an area on the waterfront where barges will store construction sand is located at the site of the Lyric Theatre, which had been due to be ready in 2019.
"We need the MTR to cooperate," Lam said.
She said she needed to talk to the corporation to explore ways to tackle the issue.
The chief secretary meanwhile insisted the original HK$21.6 billion set aside for the arts hub would be enough to cover six to seven venues in phases one and two.
Phase-three facilities and the basement on which they sit will follow after 2020, when the first two phases were completed.
The delay will cause an operation deficit of HK$400 million as retail and dining facilities will not be ready in time.