Development of The West Kowloon Cultural District (June 2005)

Background

 

In November 2003, the Institute submitted its views on the Invitation of Proposal expressing its support to develop West Kowloon Reclamation into an integrated arts, cultural and entertainment district and commented on the public participation process, the development control mechanisms, implementation, future management and the need for a comprehensive cultural strategy.  With the public consultation period for the three shortlisted schemes coming to an end, we would like to further comment on the broad issues. As a professional institute, we will focus our comments from the professional angle having regard to the prime objective to develop the site into a “world class arts, cultural, commercial and entertainment district”. 

 

General Land Use in the West Kowloon District

 

2.  The Institute supports in principle that the West Kowloon District could be developed into a hub of cultural facilities. However, in view of the lack of cultural policies and representative research regarding the current and future demand of such facilities, there is reservation on making a hasty decision to concentrate substantial resources in this district. 

 

Review on Provision of Cultural Facilities

 

3.  The building of a world-class cultural district is not just about hardware but more importantly, the software.  To be successful and sustainable, Government must have a sustainable cultural and art strategy to develop plans to nurture the local arts community, to cultivate an interest for culture and arts amongst the public and to train up more arts administration professionals through the education system and training programmes.

 

4.  For development of cultural facilities, the Institute considers it more desirable to spread them over a few easily accessible locations, say along the harbour-front, with the West Kowloon District being one of them, rather than concentrating them into one large district, from a territorial perspective. It is necessary to comprehensively consider the possibilities of renovation and/or redevelopment of all existing cultural facilities and how they would fit into the overall infrastructure in the territory. The provision of spaces at appropriate locations at affordable prices for local artists for their practice and exhibition of their art pieces is also very important to support the development of our local culture. The local artists and cultural groups should be duly engaged in the strategy formulation process. 

 

Planning and Development Control

 

5.  The Institute considers that for a large-scale development such as the West Kowloon district, maintaining statutory development control is a must to ensure that the proposed developments, including land use, infrastructural and urban design, are compatible. Therefore, basic development parameters such as development intensity/plot ratio, site coverage and building height etc. should be clearly specified in the relevant Outline Zoning Plan and the submission of Master Layout Plan for the approval of the Town Planning Board should also be required.

 

6.  Other planning requirements such as the amount of public open space (especially at grade space), land use compatibility and urban design considerations are also very important as they directly reflect compatibility of the development with the surroundings and the design appropriateness for its prominent waterfront location. These requirements should not be determined purely on the basis of financial viability.  

 

Canopy

 

7.  The Institute considers that the mandatory requirement for the canopy is unnecessary.  The massive scale of this canopy together with the extensive support columns underneath imposes major design and development constraints to the whole site.  While its budget had not been considered in detail and its practicality untested at the conceptual design stage, this overwhelming feature also imposes serious visual impact on its surroundings and in the territorial context (see Annex 1).

 

8.  If the creation of such a conspicuous feature is purely to give Hong Kong a landmark, we have really undermined the urban fabrics of our city. The spectacular topography, coastline, harbour, heritage sites and even the new cultural venues, including museums, can well be our city’s landmark.  Moreover, the mandatory requirement for such a large canopy also forces the development to spend a disproportionate amount of resources and effort to justify a “workable” canopy which is against the spirit of developing a cultural hub.

 

Development Approach

 

9.  The Institute does not support the single consortium approach.  Tendering out the whole 40 hectare site to one single consortium will not be in accordance with the principles of social justice, and would not be in the best public interest of the Hong Kong community at large. The involvement and bargaining power of the cultural community in influencing the overall cultural strategy (including education and performance) may also be compromised under a single consortium approach.

 

10.  The Institute is of the view that the most important consideration in selecting the implementation phasing is flexibility to adapt to changing needs over time.  Multiple packages to be tended out in different phases are considered the most pragmatic approach in developing the West Kowloon District.  The Institute sees that project of such tremendous scale should be allowed to evolve through an organic process over a very long period of time.  Neither London’s West End nor New York’s Broadway are comprehensively planned.  Other than a few anchor facilities which need to be developed in the first phase, there needs to be sufficient flexibility to allow the different type of uses and programmes to evolve over time.

 

Way Forward

 

11.  The Institute suggests that a Corporation / Management Board similar to the Airport Authority or the MTRC be set up to oversee the planning, programming and implementation of the project. The Corporation / Management Board should comprise members who are representative of a wide range of interests, from the development sector, the arts community to individuals from both the public and private sectors.  While it will take time to set up the Corporation/Management Board a provisional board or task force can be set up with the necessary experts on an administrative basis to resolve the various issues. Government may inject some initial funds for setting up this Corporation / Management Board, but thereafter, the development would need to be self financed through proceeds from different phases of the West Kowloon District. 

 

12. The West Kowloon District cultural hub will be the most important project for the coming decades in terms of its scale and its role in Hong Kong’s future development.  We urge Government to review the current Invitation for Proposal process, the mandatory requirement of a canopy spanning at least over 22 ha of the site and the provision of cultural facilities.  We are also very concerned that the development of such a large-scale and significant project has ‘by-passed’ the statutory planning procedures, including the chance for stakeholders and the public to comment.  We urge government to increase transparency of the entire process with continuing dialogue with the public, arts/cultural community and professional bodies.  Lastly, we urge Government to consider the setting up of a corporation/management board to oversee the planning and implementation of the project.  We, being professional planners, will be most willing to contribute.

 

 

June 2005

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