Hong Kong taxpayers asked to cough up further HK$17.5 billion for huge basement complex under West Kowloon Cultural District
- Legislators to demand answers at subcommittee meeting on Monday
- One member notes cash injection would make underground complex even more expensive than district’s main facilities
Lawmakers were set to demand answers on Monday as to why Hong Kong taxpayers would have to cough up another HK$17.5 billion for a huge basement complex under the city’s new cultural district.
At a meeting of the Legislative Council subcommittee monitoring the West Kowloon Cultural District, top officials from the Home Affairs Bureau and senior executives at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority will seek the extra cash, to build the integrated basement supporting the Xiqu Centre and the Lyric Theatre complex, as well as shops, restaurants, flats and hotels.
Funding for the basement – which will include underground roads and a car park – is now entirely reliant on public cash. Previously it was to be funded partly by income from property development above ground.
Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan said that, should the request go through, the basement will have cost about HK$23 billion, making it even more expensive than the district’s main facilities, which cost HK$21.6 billion.
“Taxpayers are now paying for everything,” she said. “We will definitely vote down the funding request.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism sector, said the government needed to come clean on what the financial burden would be for taxpayers.
“I am concerned that the authority will keep coming back for funding,” he said. “Despite the government’s justification for taking up the bill, I have questions over the arrangement. Nevertheless, I will still support it.”
He added that the authority should explain what its future business model would be.
Should the subcommittee approve the funding request, it will ultimately proceed to the Finance Committee.
Based on a conceptual design from British architects’ firm Foster + Partners, the integrated basement is designed to create a pedestrian-friendly environment at ground level by moving road traffic, parking and deliveries underground.
About 23 hectares of public open space will be given over to the project.
In 2014, the government said the whole basement would cost about HK$23 billion, assuming construction would start in 2014 for completion in 2020. But construction was delayed until the middle of this year because of delays to the high-speed rail terminal next door.
Some critics fear the real cost will exceed HK$30 billion, but the authority said the updated price tag would not be available until the first quarter of 2019.