The government must ensure the Kai Tak sports park project is cost-effective
With a less than stellar record when it comes to big infrastructure development, officials need to work hard to allay public concerns
From the staggering HK$31.9 billion price tag to the details of financial and operational arrangements, lawmakers on the public works subcommittee have raised a host of questions over the Kai Tak sports park project, and rightly so. Given the government’s not-so-stellar record of handling big infrastructure projects in recent years, members are to be commended for being extra cautious in vetting the funding request. Officials must work harder to address the concerns and ensure the project will not run into the problems found in others.
The proposed 28-hectare complex at the old airport is as ambitious as it is challenging. It aims to transform the city into a world-class sports hub, with a 50,000-seat stadium, a 10,000-seat indoor arena, a 5,000-seat public sports ground, a 40-lane bowling centre, a health and wellness centre, a 3,000 square metre “dining cove”, 57,000 square metres of retail outlets as well as eight hectares of public space. Rosy as it seems, there are practical issues. For instance, the government insists that the winning bidder should design, build and operate the entire complex under a 25-year contract, which means very few companies would be qualified to bid.
Adding to the concern is an unprecedented move to compensate losing bidders with up to HK$60 million each, which officials say is necessary to ensure there will be sufficient quality bids.
If recent experience is any guide, officials apparently have yet to learn how to build in the most cost-effective way. Take the Western Harbour Tunnel as an example. It is true that the build-and-operate model has been convenient for the government, but it also means it has little control over traffic management and toll adjustments.
The public is entitled to ask whether there will be sufficient oversight over the use of the future sports complex. The government has already come under fire for the way it has handled projects such as the financial arrangements with Hong Kong Disney, as well as for the underutilisation of the Kai Tak cruise terminal and for delays in the West Kowloon cultural district. This does not bode well for the building of a world-class sports park. Officials must learn from previous problems and deliver the project in the most cost-effective way.