Hong Kong's reputation as a world city hurt by delay to sports hub
The Legislative Council's public works subcommittee recently discussed for two hours, and put off for the third time, a preliminary request for funds for the proposed sports complex within the redevelopment of the old Kai Tak airport site. More than HK$62 million is being sought to pay for pre-construction investigative work on the controversial project. Lawmakers wondered whether the government was spending too much, and whether the proposed 50,000-seat stadium would be suitable, or become a white elephant beside Victoria Harbour that could have been used for housing. Ironically, the preliminary work they are holding up might throw some light on these questions.
It is well over a year since the Home Affairs Bureau revealed the first concrete plans for the complex, which would address shortcomings in major sport and recreation facilities expected of a self-styled world city.
Covering more than 28 hectares, the project also includes a retractable roof for the main stadium, a 5,000-seat sports ground and 4,000-seat indoor sports centre. Sadly, the project seems to be a casualty of a conflicted, uncooperative political environment over issues far removed from the sporting arena.
As a result, Hong Kong looks like falling even further behind regional rival Singapore, which last year opened a sports hub comprising a 55,000-seat stadium, aquatic centre and a 12,000-spectator indoor stadium - now an unchallenged regional venue for the local and international sports community.
Completion of the Kai Tak project has already been delayed from 2019 to 2021 - two decades after a policy to make Hong Kong a centre for major sports events was first formulated. Delays in provision of transport infrastructure have been a factor. But unless lawmakers act with a greater sense of urgency before the summer recess, the project faces another long delay until a fresh application can be made for funds.
The lack of progress makes a mockery of our reputation for efficient infrastructure development. Now the city faces missing out for years on hosting international sports events.
It is only a couple of years since the sports community fought off competing interest from developers. Given that Kai Tak is a prime site, opposition was only to be expected. But this is a chance, after so many have been missed in the past, to strike a better balance between high-rise buildings and facilities that put the city on the international sporting map.