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Culture bill likely to rocket

Mary Ann Benitez

Thursday, October 06, 2011

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The West Kowloon cultural district is set to be the SAR's downtown pioneer green area, but it could cost taxpayers at least HK$8 billion more than expected before it finally becomes a reality.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority board member Sin Chung-kai noted that specialist advisers warned in 2008 that the project would go above the budgeted HK$21.6 billion, and now that a final design choice is close it could be HK$29 billion or even more.

Authority chief executive Michael Lynch said in August that talks were going on for at least another HK$4 billion for underground infrastructure that is integral to the winning design from British architect Norman Foster's firm.

But when the authority unveiled a modified plan from Foster+Partners for a month-long consultation on Thursday there was no big money talk. Lynch just said negotiations are moving along and funding options being considered.

Then, on Monday, new Chief Secretary for Administration and authority board chairman Stephen Lam Sui-lung said he would try to ensure that the HK$21.6 billion is "put to good use."

And a decision on more funding for a project that has been stuttering along for years will not be made until early next year - at the earliest.

The final consultation ends on October 30, with the development going to the Town Planning Board months later. The hope is that the board will give a go- ahead by the end of next year.

The modified plan includes the Great Park, the building in phases of five iconic venues, an arts pontoon, two ferry piers plus underground roads and an Express Rail Link terminus.

Sin said based on 2008 data the cost "will go up to HK$28 billion to HK$29 billion." But it could be more after the tendering for the major arts venues and two-level underground infrastructure.

When the project was approved, Sin said, the assumption was that much infrastructure would be at ground level.

According to him, it would cost less if the government handled communal features - drainage, water supply, roadworks and public lighting as well as the underground infrastructure.

A district cooling system - a green feature - falls "in the gray area" of communal infrastructure, he added.

Chan Man-wai, executive director for project delivery, defended the cooling system as energy efficient and less costly.

"You don't have to turn on a lot of major plants as you are sharing one big plant," said Chan, adding that passive design of buildings could save energy.


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