A pro-democracy legislator has warned that the government might allocate too many venues for arts performances at the future West Kowloon cultural district project to win the support of arts and cultural groups but waste public money in the process.
Albert Chan Wai-yip told a Legislative Council subcommittee meeting Wednesday that although possible collusion between the government and big business in the project through a single tender system has now been set aside, he is worried the government might be forced to provide too many arts venues in the district to secure the backing of arts groups for the project.
The performing arts sub-group under the WKCD consultation committee has proposed building a 1,400-seat Cantonese opera theater, a 2,000-seat concert hall, two 2,000-seat Great Theaters, four medium-sized theaters with 800 seats each, and four Black Box Theaters with 250 seats each.
"To enlist the support of arts and cultural groups for the project, the government may propose creating a lot more cultural venues than necessary. It may gradually become a sort of political tradeoff," Chan said. "As the public is not authorized to endorse such expenditures, our fiscal reserves could eventually be drained out."
Accusing government officials of keeping legislators in the dark as no new proposals or ideas have been included in the government's latest documents on the project, Chan feared the government's failure to state which arts, cultural or music groups could perform at these facilities would result in a low utilization rate at the venues and revenue wastage.
Michael Chiang Hong-man, chairman of the Planning and Lands Committee of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said it would be vital for the government to revisit its cultural blueprint before deciding to build museums and cultural venues in the area.
He said the government should regard boosting tourism as merely a by- product of museum, arts and exhibition venue development rather than its main aim. "Like the Louvre museum in Paris, the French government has never intended to designate it as a tourism area although it later became a famous scenic spot," Chiang said.
People's Panel on West Kowloon spokeswoman Cyd Ho Sau-lan urged the government not to focus just on modern cultural development and neglect the inclusion of local traditional culture in the WKCD project.
Responding to Chan's remarks, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Esther Leung Yuet-yin said the government would always adhere to its basic principles - promoting arts groups to allow them to freely present their creations, ensuring public participation and producing a balanced development. "We'll initiate interaction and exchange opinions with cultural groups to see how these resources can be appropriately allocated," Leung said.
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs Vincent Fung Hao-yin noted that both the government and arts performance groups recognized the growing demand for performance venues as the supply of arts performance facilities at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and City Hall has run dry, forcing the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to reject applications by some arts groups to lease these venues.
"We'll continue to ensure that the process will be open and not masterminded by the administration," he said, adding that the extra performance venues proposed by the performing arts subgroup under the WKCD consultation committee could increase the number of seats in local arts performance venues by 37 percent.
As the work of three advisory groups affiliated to the WKCD consultative committee is already behind schedule and they are due to hand in their proposals to the committee by the end of this year, Leung expected the committee to submit its recommendations to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen early next year.
She said the government would increase participation by the private sector, particularly the arts and cultural groups, in venue management in future.