A friend of mine commented:
“If I remember correctly, about 15 years ago when the West Kowloon development plan was first issued, the zoning was in a better shape than the groups of skyscrappers we see nowadays. There was more space for leizure, although in those days it was not earmarked for cultural activities. There were the West Kowloon Government Offices Building, probably to replace the one in Nathan Road, and other government faciities as well. I cannot find such facilities within the clusters of high rise buildings.
With the buildings and population growing so fast and without additional faciities like police station, fire station, ambulance depot, clinic or increase capacility of the hospital in the district (QEH ?), etc., I doubt if the existing ones can absorb the additional work.
Everyone is focussing on the cultural development site. This includes our Principal Officers and the HoDs of the Works Departments. Even the District Councils and LegCo members raised nothing on all these other essential services to be provided by the Government. This is the standard of our so called “politicians”.
Is this what we deserve ? Was the past colonial rule better ? Are we, or the current CHT regime of such standard that we cannot even uphold what was left behind by the previous government, not to say anything like “sustainable development” ?”
It is quite right that the original plan for the West Kowloon reclamation was general land use for commercial/residential use, GIC facilities and open areas for leisure. During 1997 to 1999, CE included in the policy addresses that a major performance venue will be included in the area. But in 2000, things took a sharp turn and Hong Kong dreamed of a world class cultural district there. A worldwide competition on the conceptual design was launched in 2001, attracting 167 entries. The winning design by Norman Foster with the famous canopy received international praise in 2002.
The present invitation of proposal based on the winning design grew from one major performance venue to the provision of –
3 theatres with at least 2,000, 800 and 400 seats respectively;
a performance venue with at least 10,000 seats;
4 museums at least 75,000 square metres in size;
An art exhibition centre at least 10,000 square metres in size;
A water amphitheatre;
and A canopy covering at least 55% of the development area.
Really world class. The question is how to pay for it and how can it be run effectively. The short answer is: don’t let the government do it.
For more information on the background and details of the project, we can ask Paul who is the keeper of the WKCD website in the bureau. There are immense interest everywhere on the project. I have an article on WKCD in my weblog. The weblog was hit in the last few months by many search engines on this topic, with many searches initiated from overseas. The most popular searched words were West Kowloon Cultural District, Sunny Development and Dynamic Star.
You don’t need to worry about amenities. The development plan will go through TPB and everything will not be missed. I am sure that conditions on GIC facilities will be included in the land lease, probably the developer will be required to pay for it.
The idea of launching WKCD as a PPP project is good. The private sector involvement could ensure that the whole business is sustainable. There is a good chance that the revenue in running business of all venues, rental, restaurants, shops, etc. could meet the recurrent maintenance cost. The capital cost could be amortized and met by sale of residential flats.
I think the big mistake that the government made is the relaxation of the plot ratio. For the present day environmentally-minded population, such an exception is hard to accept, thus creating the public outcry that the property developers can get a bigger than normal profit than they deserve. If government does not want to inject additional fund, then the cost of the infrastructure must balance the revenue generated from the portion of land used for property development under normal circumstances. However, the government has let the developers design with the sky as the limit, and the developers promptly raise the plot ratio to the sky to make ends meet plus a handsome profit. The government is now in a dilemma that it is hard to ask the developers to reduce the plot ratio without reducing the scope of the cultural facilities. The future of the project is not optimistic.