Compared with some mega infrastructure projects, the Fisherman's Wharf project was modest in financial terms. Intended as a way to attract tourists to dilapidated Aberdeen, its initial cost of about HK$1 billion was a fraction of the multibillion-dollar West Kowloon Cultural District project. Even the proposed cruise terminal at Kai Tak is estimated to cost taxpayers HK$7.2 billion. Taking that into account, it is perhaps not surprising that the government decision, announced last week, to trim back the project by 80 per cent has not caused a stir - at least not yet. This is despite the fact that the reasons given to the media by a 'government source' are still full of holes. According to the source, the Fisherman's Wharf concept proved to be 'too imaginative'. Citing a government-commissioned consultancy study last year, the source said the project was 'financially not viable'. The original plan estimated the number of annual visitors at 1.46 million. The developer could face an operating deficit of more than HK$450 million, the source said. First floated in 1998, the idea of a Fisherman's Wharf became a policy initiative in the 1999-2000 budget of then-financial secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Outlining such plans as the Disneyland theme park, Ocean Park expansion and the Aberdeen project, Mr Tsang said: 'As competition intensifies and tourists become more sophisticated and demanding, we realise Hong Kong cannot rest on its laurels.' It took seven years to complete a detailed blueprint. The 170,000 square metre project designated seven sites for redevelopment, and included a fisherman's wharf and heritage museum. Unfortunately, the plan failed the reality check by the consultancy last year. Now citing the credit crunch and lacklustre interest from the private sector, the government has decided to go for an even more modest plan, costing between HK$150 million and HK$200 million. Under the scaled-back plan, only the waterfront promenade in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau will be beautified. Accusing the government of backing down from the scheme's original pledge to make the district a tourism hub, a Southern District Council member said: 'It [the project] has now been downgraded to a district beautification project.' Most members at a council meeting on Thursday, however, settled for less, as that would be better than nothing. Certainly, the tourism sector and local residents can be forgiven for feeling disappointed by the downgrading of the plan. They will take excuses about the credit crunch and lack of interest from private developers with a pinch of salt. Despite lingering uncertainty about the economic crisis, government officials and analysts have forecast that the economy will improve next year, if not earlier. Given its proximity to Ocean Park, its history as a fishing harbour, and potential for seafood dining, the promise of Aberdeen becoming a unique tourist attraction was acknowledged by the government a decade ago. The government source said the rate of return on the project, estimated by the consultancy, would be unattractive to investors. Without formally opening the project to private participation, any assessment about developer interest based on self-styled assumptions may be excessively pessimistic. Much has been said by the government and business sector about lawmakers, environmental groups and heritage conservation activists dragging their feet over infrastructure projects. But the Aberdeen project received wide public support a long time ago. Given the government's record, such glacial progress is hardly surprising. The fact that this 'imaginative' idea has been sent back to the drawing board after 10 years raises questions about the capability and political will of the administration in turning visionary ideas into reality. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.