The building that houses the Sheung Wan wet market is also home to three of the city's major arts groups - the Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Situated above a wet market, the least of the many problems they have is mice. 'I simply can't give you a list of the problems we're facing,' said Norris Wong Shiu-ngor, marketing and development manager of the Hong Kong Dance Company. 'There are just too many. Artists in Hong Kong don't think about problems, we solve them. The survival kit is we have to think positively.' She is disappointed that the government has not moved ahead with plans to build the West Kowloon Cultural District. 'Wasting time is wasting money,' she said. 'Performing art is physically demanding. Dancers, actors and musicians can't wait years for the arts hub to be complete.' Construction was originally due to start in April but has been put on hold as uproar over claims of government and big business collusion forced authorities to put the proposal out for public comment. The decision delayed the project for a year, and it was decided the core cultural facilities, such as theatres and museums, would be completed in stages from early 2011. It is expected the project will face further delays, as the government said at the end of last month that it needed time to study the responses and would announce the next steps at a later date. Three consortiums - Dynamic Star International, the World City Cultural Park and Sunny Development - announced interest in the development but voiced reservations. Responding to the developers' concerns has bought the government time in the face of a highly critical Legislative Council report that demanded the project go back to square one. By raising questions instead of fully committing to the project, the developers avoided being sidelined from the project or accepting the not-so-favourable terms Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan set out in October last year. Official sources said there would be a new push to bolster public opinion towards the project. They said they expected arts groups to be more vocal. A similar tactic was used a year ago. Low-profile but important arts groups voiced their support for the arts hub project at a Legco panel meeting on January 31 last year. Nearly all the major arts groups have formed some sort of partnership arrangement with one of the three development contenders. Dynamic Star has enlisted the City Contemporary Dance Company, Hong Kong Ballet, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Spring-time Group and Theatre Ensemble. The Hong Kong Dance Company and Chung Ying Theatre Company have an agreement with Sunny Development. By aligning with arts groups, the bidders boost their public image and, more importantly, get access to key data to help prepare estimates and business plans. While the contents of the agreements are confidential, it is believed they are about giving the arts groups the 'home' that they have been desperately seeking. But now, many of the groups are uncertain if the contracts were voided under the modified plan announced last October. It seems the winning bidder now has no obligation to operate the arts and cultural facilities. Communication between the arts groups and the West Kowloon bidders has been limited since the modified plan was announced. But arts groups said there was no evidence that the developers were now ignoring them. 'I didn't test it. But I don't feel this way,' said Margaret Yang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. 'We're up in the air. But we're always up in the air, with or without West Kowloon. I'm sure no arts groups in Hong Kong will tell you that they rely on West Kowloon. The overall environment has always been harsh. We hope there will be an arts hub for us soon and we hope it is going to be a genuine arts and cultural project.' The Sinfonietta's offices are in a commercial building in Wan Chai. For practice, it books rehearsal rooms at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It has to book the rooms six months in advance to ensure it gets the slots it wants. 'The gripe is that any performing arts group should be able to rehearse on the stage that they are going to perform on,' Ms Yang said. 'We only get to try out the stage once, which is normally the morning of the performance. The problem with this is that the musicians, including the conductor and the soloists, have to suddenly get used to a completely different set of acoustics, and they are not able to give their best. 'A home is important not only for musical development but also for the growth of team spirit. Like a soccer team, an orchestra needs a good home that it can grow in and the different homes for performing arts groups will be the roots of arts development in Hong Kong.' The West Kowloon development has turned the 'small-circle's concern' into a city-wide issue. Accusations that the government did not conduct proper consultation with arts groups and was ignorant to their needs forced the then chief secretary, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, to hold a series of discussions with the major arts groups. Legco also had a special meeting to listen to their plight. The Home Affairs Bureau released a consultation paper on the development of performing arts at the end of last year, when the arts hub-related public relations fanfare had died down. The consultation closed at the end of last month. The paper was prepared by the Performing Arts Committee. The bureau set up three committees - performing arts, museums and library - after it dissolved the Cultural and Heritage Commission. The document is the first of three consultations on the city's future arts and culture development. For the first time, the government addressed the relationship between existing venues and West Kowloon. It wrote: 'This would certainly increase the number and variety of venues available, as well as [provide] a significant increase in arts funding. We envisage that the WKCD statutory body and the independent fund, once established, would steadily build up the cultural software for the district, which would have a positive impact on the arts scene in Hong Kong.' The committee proposed a venue partnership scheme in the hope it could serve as a reference for a statutory body to be set up to look after the arts hub. It hopes to establish a partnership between selected government venues and performing arts groups so the latter will be programme provider to the venue. By establishing a partnership, the venue's artistic character will be strengthened. Arts groups must compete to join the scheme. Those selected must work with the venue operator to enlarge its audience base and seek corporate sponsorship. The paper also addressed funding. It suggested major performing arts groups would be funded through a consolidated grant. The money would be used to support the groups in hiring, administration, production and rent. Music critic Oliver Chou said one of the main purposes of the paper was to update the funding policy. 'It is a response to the arts groups' criticism,' he said. 'They are updating the funding policy so there will be a level playing field among the 10 groups. Their plan is by the time West Kowloon is ready, an effective funding policy will be in place. There will also be effective use of existing venues. If West Kowloon is to provide hardware, the consultation is there to provide software.' But Mr Chou is uncertain whether the proposal will work. 'The essence remains the same. For instance, the new funding body could be formed as a trust or a non-profit-making corporation, with members appointed by the government. [But] I'm not sure how knowledgable the government-appointed members would be about the arts scene.'