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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:57 PM   #581
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Wednesday November 16 2005

Proposed rules on retired civil servants' jobs relaxed

Staff Reporter

Proposals to tighten post-retirement employment rules for senior civil servants have been watered down because of staff opposition.

Instead of forcing all directorate staff to face a longer 'sanitisation period', from six months now to one year, the government has decided to introduce a two-tier system after consultation with staff over the past year.

Under the plan, only those ranked at directorate Grade 4 or above - usually department heads or above - will not be allowed to take up full-time paid jobs within a year of retirement.

The six-month ban will continue to apply to those in lower directorate ranks.

The original plan was that the employment details of all directorate-grade retirees would be disclosed, but this has been relaxed, so only the details of those ranked at Grade 4 or above will be made public.

In a paper issued to lawmakers, the Civil Service Bureau said the revisions struck the right balance.

'We believe the arrangements represent a reasonable balance between addressing community concerns and respecting individual rights to employment,' the paper said.

The changes were a response to a conflict of interest arising from the case of former deputy director of housing Elaine Chung Lai-kwok.

Ms Chung sought permission to work for Hong Kong Ferry but was found to have helped developer Henderson Land, the ferry firm's parent company, promote its bid for the West Kowloon cultural hub.

The new arrangements will take effect from January 1.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:58 PM   #582
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Monday November 21 2005

Busy lineup draws influential players from across the world

Reports by Michael Taylor

The week will go a long way towards raising the territory's reputation as a hub for creative talent

THE BUSINESS OF Design Week (BODW) 2005 officially got under way on Saturday. In its fourth year, the event has been playing a key role in helping to reposition Hong Kong from a manufacturing centre of cheap knockoffs to Asia's hub for design excellence.

'The strong positive response we receive each year from participants is a powerful reflection of BODW's achievements,' said Freeman Lau, chairman of the Hong Kong Design Centre.

This year's BODW is the biggest and best yet.

'Not only are we bringing back the world's biggest names in the design and business industries to Hong Kong, we are also introducing some creative new programmes,' Mr Lau said. 'BODW will showcase cutting-edge designs and encourage idea sharing through informative conferences and networking activities.'

Organisers are particularly excited about this year's International Conference and Forum. Pinky Lai, an industrial designer with Porsche; Rocco Yim, whose design for the Museum of Guangdong won an international competition; Patrick Lawrence, group director of design for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group; renowned local designer Vivienne Tam; and Joanne Ooi, creative director for Shanghai Tang are just a few of the world-class designers who will speak at the event.

'Influential designers and visionary business leaders will come together to talk about how they have initiated fundamental change in their organisations, their industries, their product mix and their bottom line by making design part of their culture,' Mr Lau said.

The scope of this year's conference has deepened significantly, with a focus on four themes: the automotive industry, hospitality, branding and museums.

'These are among the hottest topics in the world, especially in Asia,' Mr Lau said.

'Thanks to rapid economic growth, the Pearl River Delta has become a leading automobile manufacturing hub and will soon develop into a major car accessories centre. This opens up doors for car and car accessory designers.'

Branding is another hot topic as the region's manufacturers attempt to move up the value chain.

'Branding is getting more significant as businesses in China are reinventing themselves to establish strong brand names in the growing market,' Mr Lau said.

Museums, meanwhile, are of particular local relevance considering the controversies surrounding cultural venues in Hong Kong.

'There is no doubt [there will be] a deeper interest in museums and expo designs following Hong Kong's plan of the West Kowloon cultural project,' Mr Lau said.

Already one of the local economy's key sectors, travel is becoming increasingly important as a result of liberalised visa regulations for mainland visitors, the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland and plans to upgrade Ocean Park.

'Over the past two decades the tourism and hospitality industry has contributed significantly to the Hong Kong economy, and it continues to grow each year,' Mr Lau said.

'Boutique and lifestyle hotels are the latest trends in hotel development.'

Three new programmes will be launched this year: Design Education Day, the International Conference on Branding Strategies and Management, and Innovation Day.

Design Education Day will focus on helping to build the critical mass needed to develop design talent.

The conference will cover branding perspectives in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Innovation Day will focus on harnessing technology in design to steer business to bigger growth.

BODW will also recognise the best of emerging and established designs when it presents the 2005 Design for Asia Award 2005, the World's Outstanding Chinese Designer Award and Design Leadership Award at a gala night tonight.

With about 6,000 delegates expected to attend, BODW will go a long way towards building Hong Kong's reputation as a hub of creativity and innovation for the region.

'Design is a significant key to business growth, especially in Greater China,' Mr Lau said.

'Growing markets in the region such as the mainland are presenting plenty of business design opportunities, and we expect this trend to continue.

'I strongly believe that BODW 2005 will further enhance Hong Kong's reputation and position as a hub for design excellence in the region.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:01 PM   #583
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Tuesday December 13 2005

Orchestral manoeuvres to raise the bar in HK

Reports by Michael Taylor

A world-class city needs a thriving cultural life, and the HKPO is doing its bit to lift standards across the board

AN ORCHESTRA CAN play an important role in the cultural life of a city. It can serve as a catalyst for the entire arts community and help raise the bar for artistic professionalism and creativity across the board.

'If we can succeed in putting our orchestra into the front ranks of the world league, this could indeed be a catalyst for the arts in Hong Kong because other organisations here would want to be good, too,' said Edo de Waart, artistic director and chief conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO). 'It could have a snowball effect.'

Hong Kong may have finally shed its image as a cultural desert, but it still has a long way to go before it can be discussed in the same breath as New York, London or Berlin. The challenge goes beyond building first-class performance venues and attracting first-class performers to the city. The public's interest in the arts also has to be developed.

'It has to be a two-pronged approach,' de Waart said. 'It has to start in schools when children are still open-minded. When they learn languages, they learn very quickly. They also like music. They like to sing in the classrooms. If that is not encouraged, then we will have a problem later on.'

Performance arts groups such as orchestras, opera companies and modern dance troupes may not be fully financially self-supporting, but that does not mean they do not have a significant role to play in the life of a world-class city. Most of the world's great commercial centres are also cultural centres, requiring the support of government or business, or both.

'To me, a city that does not have a good arts life has no soul,' de Waart said. 'And a city without a soul is a concrete jungle.'

With all the controversy over the glass canopy proposed for the cultural centre to be built on the West Kowloon waterfront, a couple of significant features have been almost overlooked. One big surprise was the absence of a concert hall in the original blueprint.

'I think there must be a reason why it was left out in the initial plan,' de Waart said.

The conductor was in favour of plans to build a 10,000-seat hall for pop concerts, but cautioned against building a multipurpose venue to serve all occasions.

'Multipurpose halls have failed everywhere in the world,' he said. 'Please don't make the same mistake here.'

Ideally, there should be a dedicated theatre for opera, musicals and ballet, and 'a really first-rate concert hall of between 1,800 and 2,000 seats of superior quality for the Hong Kong Philharmonic and other orchestras that will use it,' de Waart said.

He recommended giving the Hong Kong Cultural Centre an acoustic revamp so that a visiting orchestra could play there at the same time the Hong Kong Philharmonic was playing at its own venue in West Kowloon.

Perhaps the real problem is that Hong Kong does not take itself seriously enough when it comes to matters of culture and the arts.

'Hong Kong has a great name,' de Waart said. 'When it became known where I was living that I was going to be artistic director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the amount of interest was fabulous. So many people told me they had been to Hong Kong and that it was a fantastic city. This is something that helps us. Our orchestra has this great name, with such a great city attached to it. It is time we started using it.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:03 PM   #584
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Wednesday January 4 2006

Report to denounce revised plans for arts hub

Chloe Lai

New battle looms over West Kowloon as changes fail to appease lawmakers

The curtain is set to rise on a new battle between legislators and the government on Friday with the release of a Legco report highly critical of the revised plans for the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The report is understood to assert the government has not abandoned the unpopular single-developer approach and that the new plan announced by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan two months ago was just the same thing in disguise.

Sources who have seen the report by the Legislative Council subcommittee on West Kowloon say it demands changes to the financial arrangements for the project to give legislators a final say in key decisions. It also:

Calls on the government to give real power to a statutory authority that will be set up to oversee the project, including the power to design and run the arts and cultural facilities; and

Calls for a proper cultural policy, criticising the government for claiming to have a policy just by its plans to provide a number of performing venues.

The report is the last of two by the subcommittee. The changes announced by Mr Hui in October were in response to the first report, released in July, which called for the single-developer approach to be dumped.

The final report calls for the statutory body to be responsible for the master plan of the arts hub, according to a source who has read it.

'This is an important task and shouldn't be left with developers. The authority as a public body can involve the community when it maps out the master plan,' the source said.

The report also calls for the body to be given power to decide how much land and which part of the site should go up for open auction. It says revenue from the auction should go to the treasury, and money required for the arts and cultural facilities should be sought from Legco's Finance Committee.

'It is the proper way to fund public projects,' the source said. 'This will also ensure Legco's role in monitoring the development and safeguarding public interest.'

The source said Legco had not softened its position on the huge glass canopy planned to cover much of the site. 'We still think the canopy should be abandoned.'

The July report criticised the government for bypassing the Executive Council and Legco in decision-making for the project.

It recommended the government abandon the single-developer approach and demanded an authority be set up to oversee the development of the cultural district.

The changes announced by Mr Hui lowered the site's development density, significantly reduced the amount of residential development in the project and required the winning bidder for the arts hub to provide $30 billion for its operation.

And instead of controlling the entire 40-hectare site, the winning bidder would have only 65 per cent of the land, while the rest would be put up for auction.

Mr Hui also announced there would be an authority to oversee the project, but the details remained ambiguous.

Critics of the project said the report could be the foundation of a policy for West Kowloon.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of the People's Panel on West Kowloon said: 'The operation of the arts hub will be more efficient if we have a clear cultural policy and an arrangement that includes monitoring by the Legislative Council.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:04 PM   #585
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Saturday January 7 2006

Legco criticism of arts hub rejected

May Chan and Barclay Crawford

Rafael Hui dismisses as outdated lawmakers' idea to fund development with land sales, questions separation of components

Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan has hit back at a Legislative Council committee's damning report on the multibillion-dollar West Kowloon Cultural District, calling proposals to finance the arts hub element of the project with land sales outdated and unfeasible.

The rift between Legco and the government over the troubled project widened yesterday with the release of the committee's second report, calling for a complete overhaul of planning, including separating the cultural and non-cultural components of the development.

Mr Hui questioned how West Kowloon could be financed if the residential and commercial developments were separated from the cultural components, an approach he called 'conservative'.

Cheung Tat-tong, the former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, also challenged the financial feasibility of the Legco proposal.

The government's proposal was more financially sound, Mr Cheung said, because the winning bidder would be required to build the arts and cultural facilities - estimated to cost $12 billion - as well as funding a $30 billion trust that would finance the running of the facilities.

'How are the legislators going to guarantee that land sales revenue in 30 years' time will be enough to maintain the art and cultural facilities?' he said.

'And what developers will be interested in the project if they don't have the right to develop the land?

'Legco is letting go of $42 billion from the private sector, and asking the government to shoulder all the financial risks. It is bringing the project back to ground zero because it's scrapping existing plans.'

But Alan Leong Kah-kit, the chairman of the Legco subcommittee on West Kowloon Cultural District Development, rejected the criticisms of the 176-page report.

'We are not asking to start everything from scratch, and we don't wish to see any delay in the project,' he said.

While he could not justify how land sales revenue would be able to sustain the operation of the arts and cultural facilities, he claimed the proposal had won a consensus from 'all political parties'.

James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party member sitting on the subcommittee, threatened collective action from Legco if the proposal were ignored.

'If the government ignores all of our suggestions, I hope it doesn't need to ask Legco for money or legislation to support the arts hub project,' he said.

But Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said the party supported the modified plan proposed by the government because 'going back to the drawing board' would see the project delayed for at least another five years.

Mr Tien said the Liberals would support the modified proposal as long as the government could decide which parts of the residential and commercial land was sold in open bidding, and there was greater competition for infrastructure by the private sector and significant public consultation on the cultural areas of the development.

'There are groups who want to scrap the whole thing and start again,' he said.

'If that is the case, we won't see anything for years.'

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, from the People's Platform for West Kowloon, described the report as 'polite' and claimed it did not go far enough.

Two of the shortlisted developers for the project, Dynamic Star and Henderson Land, said they would comment once they had closely examined the report.


Main criticisms

Single developer remains: Legco says the proposal for half the residential and commercial land to be set aside for open tender does not change the fact that the government?s proposal will still see a single developer having rights for 65 per cent of the entire site as well as control over the vital cultural aspects

Poor assessment of the financial and planning details: No consideration given to whether the proposed $30 billion payment by the winning tenderer to cover the running of the cultural and community facilities will be adequate

No implementation strategy: Cultural areas could become white elephants costing the community enormous resources for their upkeep

Overseeing authority will be ineffective: There are only ?vague? descriptions of the role of the authority, which will have no role in the important early stages of the development

No say for the public: Legco says the government has not been genuine about seeking public views


Fundamental flaws and problems must be eradicated before the government commits to contracts

Planning must be integrated, otherwise a ?golden opportunity? for the community will be lost

Cultural and non-cultural elements of the project must be separated

Land must be sold using normal sale procedures that will generate enough funds to finance the cultural and community facilities

Independent consultants should be used to study the possibilities of separating the cultural from the non-cultural elements

Partnership should be entered into with the private sector for management of the arts and cultural facilities

Immediately establish a body to oversee and spearhead the development

Set up consultation panels to allow for public feedback

Remove the canopy as a mandatory component of the development
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:05 PM   #586
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Saturday January 7 2006

Compromise needed to make arts hub a reality

With its first report in July having set the tone, the Legislative Council was not expected to easily change its view on the West Kowloon Cultural District project. The publication of its second report yesterday has confirmed that lawmakers are unmoved by the modified approach the government unveiled in October.

Save for members of the Liberal Party, who largely accepted the government's revised model, the subcommittee that compiled the report is insisting that the project - from the planning and construction to the running of the cultural facilities - should be overseen by a statutory authority. The authority should build and operate the cultural facilities using money generated by selling land earmarked for the project's non-cultural components.

Stripped down to its basics, the subcommittee's recommendation to develop West Kowloon as a public project is about asserting control. Obviously, legislators remain upset by the administration's original strategy of bypassing them by packaging it as a public-private partnership that does not involve public funding.

For them, the government's modified approach is still unacceptable, as the project would still be awarded to one developer, even though the developer would be required to carve out 50 per cent of the assigned land to others.

Legislators are also opposed to the provision for the winning bidder to pay $30 billion into a fund to finance the operation of the cultural facilities. That is because the arrangement would still leave them with no direct say in how the money would be used. They would rather the land sales proceeds go to the public purse, and then be allocated to the authority through normal procedures, so they would have the final say.

Legco says it is reluctant to recommend starting the project afresh as there is overwhelming public interest in its early implementation. But it is difficult to see how its recommendations do not amount to scrapping the six years of work that has already gone into planning the project, both by the government and interested developers.

Surely, that would not be what the community wants to see. It is imperative now for both the administration and Legco to seek a compromise so that Hong Kong's vision of becoming a cultural metropolis for the region could be realised as soon as possible.

The most controversial component of the project is the canopy over the 40-hectare development. It might now have to go, to show the government's sincerity in taking the project forward.

On their part, lawmakers should stop insisting that the statutory authority should take on the job of builder. It would be far better to allow the government to proceed according to its modified approach, so that previous work would not be wasted.

Legco might not have a direct say in dishing out the $30 billion fund, but it will have a say on the composition of the board of the statutory authority. Instead of micro-managing the authority by vetting every one of its funding requests, Legco should allow that job to be done by the authority's management.

This authority should now be set up as soon as possible to take part in selecting the winner from the three shortlisted candidates. It is hoped that, for the good of Hong Kong's image, bidders will not throw in the towel at this stage to show their frustration.

For all their visionary thinking about cultural policy, legislators should be honest about the fact that not all of them know a lot about arts and culture. They should absolve themselves and government officials of the power to control what goes on inside the cultural facilities to be built in West Kowloon.

The government and Legco should work together to ensure some of Hong Kong's best minds sit on the authority, to work out a way forward for the project. Continued bickering and divisiveness do nothing to help narrow the rifts.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:06 PM   #587
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Saturday January 7 2006

Bureaucratic brush on cultural canvas will ruin the composition

Rex Aguado

THERE'S MUCH SHEDDING of tears and gnashing of teeth in the galleries and auction rooms of London these days.

The fount of this collective anguish is not some aesthetic outrage or a plunge in cultural hipness, although the Young British Artists and Cool Britannia seem to have been in deep freeze for so many years that they're almost in crisp, cryonic state.

The mother of this misery is of French origin and goes by the rather mellifluous name of droit de suite.

This is legally defined as a royalty for visual artists or their estates on the resale of artworks after the initial sale to a dealer or a private buyer.

Distinct from reproduction rights and not applicable to private deals, this royalty - 3 per cent to 5 per cent (10 per cent in Iceland) of the selling price of the artwork or sometimes the seller's profits - is usually paid to some copyright-collecting societies on behalf of the artist, much in the same way that the recording industry works.

The droit originated in France in the 1920s amid the outrage that widows of artists killed in the first world war were often left in penury while their late husbands' works were sold at exorbitant prices.

It was eventually included in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1991, and was adopted across the European Union in 2001. Britain reluctantly joined the menage a droit this year, although it will only cover - for a period of five years - works by living artists, unlike in the rest of the EU where it is applied to works that are in copyright, meaning both living and recently deceased artists.

Proponents hail it as a way of ensuring justice for creators and as an extension of intellectual property.

However, critics label it a form of misplaced social-welfare tax that threatens to expunge the art market in London, or the vestiges of one in Paris. They warn that a strict implementation of droit de suite will drive traders to seek shelter in New York, Geneva, Sydney, Tokyo or even Hong Kong, where the droit does not yet hold sway.

But at a maximum of 5 per cent on actual selling price, the amount involved is actually piddling. True, if one adds the dealer's commission and other incidental costs, a seller can bid adieu to about 15 per cent of the final price - not exactly commercially suicidal.

Perhaps what really bothers the dealers is the bureaucratic interference that will be set loose upon the generally unregulated art trading and auction markets.

And in this sense, one can empathise with the dealers and gallery owners, for it is wise to keep bureaucrats removed from artistic decisions, especially when it comes to curatorial calls or festival programming.

Letting bureaucrats decide aesthetic issues for the rest of society can be retrogressive, if not disastrous.

Look at the case of the US National Endowment for the Arts and the way it was forced to abandon in 1997 an exhibition featuring some uber-confrontational works by photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, two controversial artists whose shocking images are now considered part of the American cultural canon, capturing the horrors and hopes of those dark Aids-riddled decades.

In Hong Kong, one can only cringe at the thought of the bizarre case involving The New Man, a life-size bronze sculpture by the late Dame Elisabeth Frink which was banned from being shown publicly at a Central building lobby in 1995 because of its semi-erect state - and we're not talking about the statue's stance.

In this age of Viagra and Levitra, such a representation was actually prophetic. And yet some groups found Frink's work, owned by a Hong Kong company, scandalous. It took the brave folks at the Hong Kong Art Centre three years to take off The New Man's cardboard fig leaf to show the silliness of the brouhaha over a semi-flaccid member.

Sadly, the controversial West Kowloon Cultural District project may be heading down the same road to Sillyville. In their zeal to ensure that the US$3 billion project is pursued in a 'democratic' way, some well-meaning legislators may be letting the genie of interference out of the bureaucratic bottle.

By having a statutory body call the shots on how the project is eventually managed, legislators may be repeating the mistakes of the defunct Urban Council, especially in cultural policy.

As in business and finance, Hong Kong should follow a laissez-faire approach in the art world. Any cultural policy should be as broad, inclusive and malleable as possible.

Unfortunately, legislators and some arts-related groups in Hong Kong have been asking for a cultural policy set in stone, a dead-end for a sector that is eternally evolving.

As one wizened participant in last year's SCMP conference on the economics of arts in Hong Kong pointed out, the only time he could remember a government adopting such a fixed cultural policy was in China in 1966 to 1976 - which gave us the Cultural Revolution.

As Hong Kong's legislators and administrators ponder a new cultural policy, perhaps they can think about the warnings from London's art-market practitioners - the unintended results of the noble thought behind the droit de suite can be direly bittersweet.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:07 PM   #588
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Monday January 9 2006

We won't budge on hub, says minister

Anita Lam

Government warned it could pay a high price for pressing ahead with proposal

The planning minister yesterday insisted the government would stick to its proposal for the West Kowloon Cultural District despite a damning Legco subcommittee report last week that called for a major overhaul.

But an analyst warned the government would do more harm than good if it pressed ahead at any cost.

During a public function yesterday, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung backed the stance of Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in rejecting the lawmakers' report on Friday.

The panel recommended the government adopt traditional land-sale procedures and use the proceeds to build the cultural facilities.

'The suggestion from Legco has deviated from our original concept,' Mr Suen said. 'We adopted our current plan because, in the past, many of these development projects were fragmented, not developed as a whole but in pieces.

'So this time we would like to adopt a new mode, to co-operate and build it with the people.'

The new mode he referred to specifies that instead of operating the entire 40-hectare site, the successful bidder will be awarded development rights over 65 per cent of the area, including the controversial glass canopy covering the site and the cultural facilities.

The government scrapped its unpopular single-developer approach in October 'to satisfy public demands'. But legislators say the revised plan is a single tender in disguise.

Mr Suen refused to say anything about the preferences of the three short-listed developers, who have until the end of the month to decide whether they still want to take part. 'If our proposal is accepted by at least two of the proponents, we will go ahead,' he said.

But Chinese University political analyst Timothy Wong Ka-ying warned the price could be high.

'During the debate on political reform, the government had the support of half of the public and two-thirds of Legco, but now opinion is one-sided,' he said. He expected more conflict if the proposal went ahead than if it was rejected.

'The developers have to set up a trust fund of at least $30 billion [for the maintenance of the cultural facilities]. If the profit is not really that rewarding and they are destined to face a lot of political disturbance, they will do their calculations,' Mr Wong said.

The chairman of the Legco subcommittee on the arts hub, Alan Leong Kah-kit of the Article 45 Concern Group, said if the government ignored their opinions it would have to answer their questions in the event that it ever needed to apply for funding for the arts hub in the future.

He said they had learned from the Cyberport project, in which Legco's opinion was ignored but lawmakers were later asked to endorse funding for infrastructure.

'So should the government need any funding they will have to provide us with a satisfactory answer,' Mr Leong said.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:08 PM   #589
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Wednesday January 11 2006

The third bombshell

Chris Yeung

There were two large political time bombs, and one small one, on Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's plate when he took office as chief executive.

The small bomb, namely the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting, exploded with no serious casualties in spite of the ugly clashes between police and protesters.

The constitutional-reform bombshell went off with no long-term damage done - at least, not to the authority of the administration or the popularity of Mr Tsang. In fact, the government suffered a 'glorious defeat' in the electoral blueprint battle: it won the blame game.

High on the government's post-reform agenda is the highly complex West Kowloon arts hub project. Uncertainty looms over this huge development in the face of growing doubts about the Legislative Council's support for it.

They arose when a cross-party Legco subcommittee on the project published its findings which, in key aspects, were sharply different from the administration's choices.

They urged that the single-developer model be dropped in favour of traditional land-sale procedures - using the proceeds to build the cultural facilities.

Although it was non-binding, the panel report further complicated the behind-the-scenes tussle - between the government and three shortlisted teams of developers - over details of building and financing the project.

The three consortiums have until the end of this month to indicate an interest in a revised package of conditions released in October.

In addition to building the arts and cultural facilities, the winning bidder will be required to fund a $30 billion trust fund to finance the hub's operations for 30 years. There is speculation that at least two of the teams have decided not to proceed because the revised deal was financially unattractive.

In view of the project's commercial sensitivity, it is likely that the three consortiums will keep their cards close to their chest until the deadline.

They may have reached different conclusions about the financial implications of the revised deal, but it would only be wise for them all to talk down its financial feasibility. That could help dilute opposition to aspects of the development they want to keep.

Now that the ball is in the developers' court, the government seems to think it can dismiss the panel's report. Officials maintain they will go ahead with their plan if two of the three shortlisted bidders say 'yes'.

This sounds firm and resolute. But the reality is that the government's position is not bulletproof: a clash with Legco could have unforeseen political consequences.

Opinion polls have shown scepticism towards giving one consortium the right to build and operate the hub.

Apart from concern that the project will become just another lucrative property investment, there are still lingering doubts about the basic idea of letting developers run arts and cultural facilities.

Many would agree that private-sector experts could turn the site into an imaginative, attractive and efficiently run cultural hub. But they have no confidence in the government's ability to outsmart the developers and get a deal in the best interest of the people.

When it comes to monitoring the use of public resources, they generally see Legco as a legitimate and effective organ for holding officials accountable.

Mr Tsang no doubt knows that the price of bypassing Legco could be high. A standoff with legislators over the cultural project could lead the administration into a dead end.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:09 PM   #590
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Friday January 13 2006

Behind the arts scene

Hiram To

IN HONG KONG, the arts become undeniably fashionable (or relevant) whenever they are tagged to a cause - or a controversy.

A year ago, the local cultural scene was in the thick of the West Kowloon development debate, with property consortiums dashing to the shopping malls to put up displays of their personal visions for West Kowloon.

Now that the buzz is dying out and the project has become almost a non-event, the focus has shifted to the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, a $70 million project to transform a Shek Kip Mei factory building into an all-in-one community-based arts hub.

The unprecedented level of excitement and activity being generated by such proposals certainly gives the impression that the local arts scene is dynamic and thriving. But is that truly the case?

Tobias Berger, the German-born curator of the contemporary art space Para/Site, in Central, has been in Hong Kong long enough to gauge the true state of things.

Mr Berger said those in the art industry in Germany scrutinised art issues and developments with a highly critical eye, while 'in Hong Kong it seems people are happy to get what they are given'.

The curator noted a Hong Kong tendency to turn art and art exhibitions into generic community art. 'Hong Kong has to stop box-ticking to satisfy everyone,' he said, with reference to an administrative process that, under an unspoken rule, prioritises community-based projects, which then stand a greater chance of receiving government funding.

'Art can be developed only through specialisation, rather than through the interest of the masses.

'There is little here in terms of support and market for established artists. We also have to realise that we are no longer an island but closely connected with China and Southeast Asia as well.'

Over in the film world, players and audiences have noted with growing dismay a steady shrinkage in the volume of local productions.

'I think we have to come to terms with the fact that there will be less truly authentic Hong Kong films on the big screen,' said young director Barbara Wong Chun-chun.

Out of economic necessity, co-productions with China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are becoming the norm, and this is affecting the kind of films being served up to Hong Kong audiences. They are now seeing more films rooted in mass-appeal visual genres such as the thriller and the action movie, and less of 'thinking' movies driven by dialogue.

'It's a challenge to balance my vision of film with the demands and ideas of investors from different countries,' Ms Wong said.

The demand for manufactured Cantopop remains insatiable. Last year saw the appearance of more newcomers than ever and, while many of these bright young things enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, the sober fact is most of them will not survive the system.

Someone with a healthy do-it-yourself approach is independent songwriter and singer Alok Leung. He has backed several Hong Kong pop stars while working on film music and his own recordings.

'The climate of the music scene has improved,' he said. 'There is more diversity and people come together to play, bringing along their different musical influences. In the Hong Kong indie scene, musicians are more concerned with their own interests, rather than what the market demands.'

Like many local artists, Leung did not think culturally ambivalent Hong Kong had much to offer in artistic development or rewards.

'I am looking overseas to branch out, and I hope to get more freelance jobs. Over here, you have to get into the right cliques for that.'

Hiram To has worked as an installation artist, curator, writer and arts administrator. He is co-ordinating ArtWalk 2006
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:10 PM   #591
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Saturday January 14 2006

Arts hub bidders demand changes

Chloe Lai

It will be difficult to continue without rethink on trust, land sales, sources say

Two of the bidders shortlisted for the West Kowloon Cultural District project have demanded big changes in the way it is funded and built - with a source close to negotiations saying the consortiums would find it difficult to stay in the contest if they do not get their way.

If both were to pull out, the scheme could not go ahead as scheduled.

The government modified proposals for the giant arts hub last year to allow other developers a piece of the pie. The winning bidder will develop only 65 per cent of the area, with the rest to be auctioned.

The government did not indicate where money from the auction would go. The two bidders have asked that it be used to subsidise construction of cultural venues, the Lord Foster-designed site's iconic giant canopy and the automatic people mover that will transport visitors. The two consortiums also want the winning bidder to have the right to take part in the land auction, sources say.

As part of its changes last year, the government said the winning bidder must pay $30 billion into a trust to fund the running of the project.

The bidders have already asked the government to lower the figure and to be allowed to pay in instalments. However, it is understood that these requests have been rejected.

Sources close to the negotiations told the South China Morning Post it would be difficult for developers to continue bidding if their demands are not met.

'The project will not be financially feasible if the amount we have to pay for the trust fund is not lowered,' one source said.

The modifications announced by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in October included lowering the 40-hectare site's development density, significantly reducing the residential element and setting up a new authority to oversee the plan.

The three consortiums bidding have to tell the government by the end of this month whether they will stay in the running. The government said the scheme would go ahead if at least two developers agree to the modified plan.

A second source explained why the government should allow the winning bidder to participate in auctions for the remaining 35 per cent of the site.

'What if other developers join hands and bid down the land for just $5,000 per square foot? The winning bidder would lose a lot of money in this case. The winning bidder needs to join the auction to safeguard its interest,' he said.

Both sources stressed that a critical report last week from a Legislative Council subcommittee on the project would not affect negotiations. The report said a statutory authority should build and operate the cultural facilities using the proceeds from selling land earmarked for the project's non-cultural components.

The sources said the developers' decision would be based purely on the financial viability of the project.

The shortlisted bidders are a Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties joint venture, Dynamic Star International, the World City Cultural Park, which is wholly owned by Henderson Land, and a Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings consortium, Sunny Development.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:11 PM   #592
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Monday January 16 2006

Compromise needed on West Kowloon

The development of iconic arts projects often involves controversy, delay and amendments to carefully laid plans. The Sydney Opera House, for example, was completed only after its Danish designer quit rather than accept changes, and local architects took over.

Controversy has certainly dogged the West Kowloon Cultural District project. Two months ago, the government dropped the single-developer concept in response to public pressure. But this was not enough to pacify the Legislative Council, which has rejected the modified approach. Now, it seems, two of the three shortlisted bidders are demanding further changes - and may pull out if their wishes are not granted. There is a danger that this important project may not get off the ground. The government and legislature will have to resolve their differences if the project is not to go back to square one. The administration and the bidders have compelling reasons to work things out, so that six years of planning does not go to waste.

Initially, a single developer was to build and operate a cluster of arts and entertainment facilities for 30 years before handing them to the government, in return for development rights for a prime waterfront site valued at tens of billions of dollars. This financially free-standing, land-for-arts deal sparked allegations of improper transfer of benefits to the successful bidder, without legislative scrutiny. The arts community was upset that a property developer would get to determine the project's cultural content.

In dropping the single-developer approach and deciding to set up a statutory authority to manage the cultural facilities, the government made a significant revision of the way the project is to be funded and built. The winning bidder is to develop only 65 per cent of the 40-hectare area - with the rest to be auctioned - and pay $30 billion into a trust to fund the running of the project. At the same time, the government also capped the residential and commercial elements.

The new conditions try to ensure the cultural district will still be designed and built as an integrated project. They do not satisfy those, including lawmakers, who feel that the whole project should be built and managed by a public authority. But that would have meant further delays for a project that has clear public support. The proposed public-private partnership is still the best way to proceed.

However, two bidders are now said to want proceeds of the land auction to be used to subsidise construction of cultural venues, the proposed giant canopy and an automatic people-mover; the $30 billion to be reduced to a lower figure and the winner to be allowed to bid in the land auctions. These demands are a reminder of concerns that have been raised already. These include whether the trust fund idea can really be sustainable and critics' fears that the cost of building and maintaining the giant canopy will be crippling.

The government's difficulties arise from suspicions that the arts hub is really another commercial property project. It was right to make changes, even if they have not been sufficient to dispel such suspicions. But now the government is caught in the middle, between the Legislative Council and the developers. It is not surprising that the bidders are seeking the most favourable conditions they can obtain. They were, after all, invited to bid on the understanding that more attractive terms would be on offer.

However, under the new arrangements, bidding consortiums have to compete not just on their designs but also on their financial proposals. This still leaves the government some room for negotiation, while ensuring the details are settled fairly for all the stakeholders concerned.

Meanwhile, the administration and Legco should work together to make the best possible appointments to the statutory authority, which should take part in choosing the winning bidder. Such a compromise could help the vision of a regional cultural metropolis become a reality sooner rather than later.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:12 PM   #593
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Tuesday January 24 2006

Arts hub lobbyists shun Exco committee roles

Barclay Crawford

A leading lobby group on the West Kowloon Cultural District says it has shunned a government offer for half the seats on two Executive Council committees aimed at getting the troubled project back on track.

The government asked the People's Panel on West Kowloon to send the names of seven core members to join the committees. One is to focus on the cultural aspects of the multibillion-dollar waterfront development and the other will work on the planning side.

The government is refusing to comment on the committees' existence.

However, the South China Morning Post has learned that they are to be led by two non-official Exco members, Leung Chun-ying and Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.

An Exco member is understood to have acted as a middleman to broker the deal for group members to join the committees.

But the government's proposal was rejected at the weekend because of the administration's desire to have two committees rather than one.

'West Kowloon has always been considered as a holistic project,' people's panel core member Mau Chi-wang said last night. 'We do not agree with the government that there should be a separation between planning and culture.'

The group feared it would be 'victimised' by the government had it joined and believes it can operate more effectively by working as 'an opposition committee', he said.

'We will offer checks and balances on whatever the government proposes to do and keep with the philosophy of the project,' Mr Mau added.

Meanwhile, legislators yesterday voiced support for a group of tycoons who are demanding improved harbour planning, and called on the government to look at setting up an independent authority to oversee the waterway.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday the Harbour Business Forum, a coalition of 120 leading companies and business groups, will seek a meeting with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen after the Lunar New Year to raise their concerns over development.

A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office yesterday declined to comment.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat welcomed the coalition's participation in harbour protection, and will invite members to address the legislature on their demands.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, of the Article 45 Concern Group, also welcomed the group's recommendation, saying it was common in other parts of the world to have an authority to co-ordinate planning and development of harbours.

Additional reporting by Chloe Lai
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:12 PM   #594
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Tuesday January 24 2006

Give us a park, not a cultural hub, say residents

Barclay Crawford

Most Hongkongers want the multibillion-dollar West Kowloon Cultural District development shelved and replaced by a waterfront park with some cultural facilities, a survey suggests.

The University of Hong Kong survey found 81 per cent of residents wanted 'cultural and leisure facilities' and a large park, while a meagre 11 per cent wanted any commercial or residential area on the 40-hectare slice of prime harbourfront.

The result is a further blow to the government, following a Legislative Council subcommittee's report this month which attacked the government's proposals for the site - already modified in an attempt to placate critics.

The survey of 510 residents also found 62 per cent believed Hong Kong needed more parks and open space and 65 per cent thought there had been too much harbour reclamation and that the city's international reputation was falling behind the likes of London, New York, Sydney and Vancouver.

But the government was unmoved, claiming yesterday that the arts hub in West Kowloon would attract tourists, enhance cultural development and create jobs.

'The government recognises the public's desire for more open space such as parks, hence we have required that public open space in the West Kowloon Cultural District should not be less than 20 hectares, which is half the area,' a spokesman said.

The survey was commissioned by Hong Kong Alternatives, a lobby group pushing for the West Kowloon site to be turned into a park.

Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of HKU's public opinion programme, said: 'What this survey shows is the large difference between what the government wants and what the people want.'

A spokesman for Hong Kong Alternatives, Tony Chan, said it was time the government listened to the people so they did not have to 'march on the streets or do something more radical'.

Mr Chan said the project was originally supposed to be a park and the survey proved the government should never have altered that plan. 'Hong Kong is not short of land for building,' he said. 'But this is the last valuable slice of land on the harbourfront and there is the chance to build a real cultural landmark for Hong Kong.'

Mau Chi-wang, from the People's Panel on West Kowloon, said the government had to start listening to what Hongkongers wanted. He said the news was only likely to get worse for the government. 'Most people are ill-informed about West Kowloon. Once they are [informed], they will realise they are being presented with another white elephant.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:13 PM   #595
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Tuesday January 24 2006

Whirl at their feet

A revived Hong Kong Dance Festival could help local talent step back into the limelight and gain much deserved global recognition, writes Kevin Kwong

FOR EVERY Spartacus or Turandot, both critically acclaimed Hong Kong Ballet productions, there's always a Tempo of Hong Kong, a Hong Kong Dance Company offering that was universally panned. And for every local dance graduate snatched up by companies such as Li Hwai-min's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and Akram Khan's dance troupe in Britain, there'll be a dozen or so who sign up for Hong Kong Disneyland.

Nonetheless, the local dance scene is considered to be in good shape, and is expected to get a boost from a series of international dance events and local productions this year - particularly the Hong Kong Dance Festival, which returns in June after an eight-year absence.

The 11-day event will be held in conjunction with the annual general meeting of the World Dance Alliance Asia-Pacific, as well as activities such as a festival of dance academies, an independent dance festival, a dance education conference, a dance film festival and a series of classes and workshops to be held at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA).

The festival, which begins on June 8, also coincides with the 20th annual conference of the International Society for the Performing Arts, which is supported by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

In light of which, you might think that the Hong Kong Dance Alliance, which is organising the festival, would be over the moon. Not so, says chairman Tom Brown.

The local dance scene will never develop fully until it's able to change people's perceptions - particularly a prejudice against home-grown talent, Brown says. And there's the problem of identity and permanent venues.

'The three companies - Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Ballet and the City Contemporary Dance Company [CCDC] - are world class and the dancers are world class,' he says.

'But we have a problem in Hong Kong - which is the same everywhere in the world - that the local brand isn't appreciated. People automatically assume that international brands like the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Li's Cloud Gate or the Royal Ballet are better. This isn't the case.'

Brown, who is also associate dean of dance at the APA, says the quality of Hong Kong companies is recognised overseas, and that local troupes - particularly the Hong Kong Dance Company - should perform abroad more often 'because they're just as good'.

Lack of identity is also a problem. None of the major companies is associated with a particular venue in the way that, say, the New York City Ballet has Lincoln Centre or the Royal Ballet has the Royal Opera House. Such structural problems in arts presentation are being examined by a government committee, which has recommended partnerships between LCSD venues such as the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong City Hall and Kwai Tsing Theatre and performing arts groups. Artists have until the end of the month to submit their views.

'I don't know where the government thinks it is going to get the audiences to fill the West Kowloon venues unless it starts cultivating audiences,' Brown says. 'The way every other country in the world does it is to teach it in schools. This isn't happening here. Appreciation takes repeated viewing.'

Despite such obstacles, local companies are gaining international recognition, which Brown attributes in part to the dedication and longevity of their artistic directors and dancers. CCDC founder Willy Tsao Sing-yuen and choreographer Helen Lai Hoi-ling, for instance, have been with the company for 25 years. Most of their dancers have worked with them for a long time, also. 'They've had time to develop, to experiment and to grow up.'

At the Hong Kong Ballet, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004, Stephen Jefferies has been artistic director for the past 10 years. 'And I think that was the best 10 years of its history,' he says.

Hong Kong Dance Company's new artistic director, Hu Jialu, still needs time to find his feet, Brown says. His first piece, Farewell My Concubine, was a critical success - in marked contrast to Tempo of Hong Kong.

On the independent scene, choreographers/dancers such as Yuri Ng Yue-lit, Yeung Wai-mei, Frankie Ho Ching-yu, Andy Wong Ting-lam and Daniel Yeung Chun-kwong were prolific last year and will continue to be so in coming months. Recent works such as Yeung's Spiritual Girl and Ng's The Devil's Tale have been noted by critics for maturity of style and technique and for their depth.

Although a lack of rehearsal space is still a problem for many independent dancers, groups such as Y-Space - founded by Mandy Yim Ming-yin and Victor Ma Choi-wo - are running their own studios in factory buildings. The pair will hold talks and performances at their Y-Theatre near Kwai Tsing Theatre throughout this year. They will perform a new work, Body, I.D., Space III, for the Julidans Festival in Amsterdam in July, and Yeung Chun-kwong has been invited to Berlin's Hebbel Theatre in August.

Their efforts - and those of the major companies - are likely to be recognised when the Hong Kong Dance Alliance presents its annual awards next month, with the winners expected to be announced today.

Brown says he's worried that Hong Kong may be becoming 'too jaded and too sophisticated. It seems to me there was a lot of excitement 10 years ago and we don't seem to have that any more.

'We're hoping the Hong Kong Dance Festival will help generate some kind of splash and impact in the community's mind. There's this diversity here - from world-class professional companies to cutting-edge performance and conceptual work, and top-level academic intellectual work.

'Hong Kong is a magnet not only because of Disneyland. It's a cultural hub - especially in the Asian-Pacific region.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:14 PM   #596
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Thursday January 26 2006

Arts hub decision likely to be put off
Chloe Lai

A decision on the future of the West Kowloon project is likely to be delayed for several more months, amid reluctance by the bidders to commit to the revised plan for the controversial arts hub.

The government's end-of-January deadline for the three shortlisted consortiums to indicate whether they will remain in the bidding process or pull out is likely to pass without much happening, sources close to the developers say.

Two of the three consortiums have demanded big changes and none is ready to make a firm commitment, the sources say. Equally, none wants to pull out.

A source close to one of the developers said: 'We are examining the government's offer, asking for more information, but also waiting for the responses from other developers.

'It is no good to be the first to quit; if we quit first and the government improves their offer to keep the project going, then we will be the one to suffer. We will not tell them yes or no at this moment.'

The government is likely to delay a decision on the project's future for several months more, the sources say. But a Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau spokesman said the January 31 deadline remained in place and no request to push it back had been received.

The government modified its proposals for developing the 40-hectare site last year, dropping its insistence a single developer build it. The winning bidder will develop 65 per cent, with other developers invited to tender for the rest.

One source said: 'The government could announce a postponement on the grounds that it needs time to study issues raised by developers. Then the government can set up a couple of new committees to study the issue for a few more months. This will make sure Legco can't take the leading role.'

A highly critical second report by a Legislative Council subcommittee on the plan early this month called for a complete overhaul of planning for the project, including separating the cultural and non-cultural components. The government is setting up two Executive Council committees aimed at getting the project back on track.

The source close to one of the consortiums said all three - but especially World City Cultural Park, wholly owned by Henderson Land, and Dynamic Star International, a Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties joint venture - were very keen to go ahead if the terms were financially feasible.

'When [Henderson chairman] Lee Shau-kee said they would go ahead even if they would lose a bit of money, he really meant it,' he said. 'Winning this will ensure the company's status as one of the city's largest developers.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:15 PM   #597
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Thursday January 26 2006

Sunset over the cultural hub?

Frank Ching

The day of reckoning may be near for the controversial West Kowloon Cultural District project. The three shortlisted consortiums of developers have to inform the government by the end of this month whether they will stay in the running. According to the government, at least two bidders have to accept its plan for the scheme to go ahead.

There are reports that two of the shortlisted bidders have asked for major changes before they agree to remain in the running. If they drop out, the government will have to go back to square one.

That may not be such a bad thing. Very few people support the government's plan. The original idea of a single developer was dropped because of public pressure but, even as amended, one consortium will still develop 65 per cent of the 40-hectare site and be responsible for the cultural aspects.

A recent University of Hong Kong survey found that most people wanted the project replaced by a waterfront park with some cultural facilities. The survey found that 81 per cent of residents wanted cultural and leisure facilities and a large park, while only 11 per cent wanted any commercial or residential area in the district.

The government claims that its approach is that of a public-private partnership, which taps the resources of the private sector for the development of cultural facilities. However, this in itself is a problem.

The approach was adopted a few years ago when the government was in dire financial straits. At that time, it was understandable that the administration wanted the private sector to assume the responsibility for developing the cultural district.

However, those days are gone and it is odd, to say the least, for the government to act as though a property developer was best qualified to decide on matters of culture. Members of the arts community are understandably upset that a developer - not they - should get to determine matters of art and culture.

In this regard, the report by the Legislative Council subcommittee on West Kowloon is right to propose that a statutory body be established - not only to oversee and spearhead the project, but also to define a cultural policy and specify the objectives to be achieved by the cultural district.

The subcommittee's call for the cultural and non-cultural elements of the project to be separated - with funds from the sale of commercial and residential lots used to finance the cultural and community facilities - also makes sense.

That would do away with the government's proviso that a property developer put $30 billion into a trust to fund the running of the project. This condition, it appears, is a main reason why some bidders are unsure if they want to proceed.

The government seems to be wedded to the idea of a canopy, originally proposed by the renowned architect Lord Foster. While the concept may be creative and attractive, it does pose problems, not the least of which is the cost. The Legco subcommittee proposes that the canopy be made optional. It appears that property developers, too, prefer to make it optional unless it can be reduced in size.

The government has so far shown no sign of wanting to take the subcommittee's proposals seriously. If two of the consortiums pull out within the next few days, the government may have no choice but to do so.

One of the first matters to be considered should be a list of potential candidates to be appointed to the statutory authority, which should be involved in the project from the beginning and not simply be set up to run it after all the decisions have been made.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:15 PM   #598
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Friday January 27 2006

Bidder confirms its interest in arts hub

May Chan

One of the shortlisted bidders for the West Kowloon Cultural District project yesterday publicly affirmed it intends to stay in the race to win the development tender.

Sunny Development - a consortium formed by Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings - said: 'The project is beneficial to Hong Kong. Sunny Development is interested in continuing with the project. We will support the government, respect the public's opinion and try our best.'

The government has asked the three shortlisted bidders to indicate by the end of this month whether or not they wish to remain in the bidding process. Sunny's rivals, one controlled by Henderson Land and the other a joint venture of Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Sun Hung Kai Properties, said they would reply to the government today.

If two of the consortiums pull out, the government has said it will have to scrap the tendering process and start again.

A source told the South China Morning Post this week that neither of Sunny's rivals was likely to say yes or no to the government this month, and that a decision on who gets the tender would likely be delayed for several months.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of the Conservancy Association's centre for heritage, said the government had only itself to blame if the project was delayed.

'If the government keeps negotiating with developers about delays and changes in requirements, it's breaking its promise. What it should do is formulate a proper cultural policy and master plan.'

Ada Wong Ying-kay, of the People's Panel on West Kowloon, said the government should start the consultation on cultural development as soon as possible.

'Hong Kong already has an arts hub without the West Kowloon project,' Ms Wong said. 'What we lack is the software ... and funding systems for budding talent.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:16 PM   #599
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Saturday January 28 2006

Don't let hub bidders renegotiate, Hui told

Barclay Crawford and May Chan

Lobby groups and pro-democracy lawmakers yesterday urged the government to confirm whether the three bidders shortlisted for the West Kowloon Cultural District project had agreed to its revised terms.

The calls came after the bidders indicated they wished to stay in the race for the contract to develop the 40-hectare site, but without saying explicitly whether they had accepted the revised terms announced by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan in October.

These include a controversial condition that the winning bidder pay $30 billion into a trust to fund the running of the arts hub's cultural facilities.

A government spokesman said the bidders had raised some specific questions about the project's parameters and conditions, including arrangements for the carving out of commercial and residential portions of the development for other developers to bid for, use of the proceeds from the sale of these development rights, and the $30 billion fund.

'We need time to study the proponents' responses,' the spokesman said.

The bidders are not saying whether they will negotiate with the government on possible compromises on the requirements.

Democratic Party leader Lee Wing-tat also said he was told by Mr Hui yesterday that the government would not make any changes to the new terms.

'He said it is just negotiating details of financial arrangements,' Mr Lee said.

'If the administration agrees to modify the terms set out in October, we will consider all options for voicing our objection,' he said.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of the Conservancy Association's centre for heritage, said the absence of a commitment from the developers to accepting the government's terms would fuel public suspicion.

'It appears the government is trying to help the bidders in any way possible, to ensure they have someone to build the project. It shows the absurdity of the entire process,' Mr Lai said.

Mau Chi-wang, a core member of the People's Panel on West Kowloon, said he was concerned about the government's lack of bargaining power.

'It doesn't have any bargaining power, because it needs developers' participation to finish the project as soon as possible,' he said.

But legislator Chan Kam-lam, one of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong members sitting on the Legislative Council subcommittee for the project, saw no need for the government to push the developers on compliance with the terms.

'We should give the developers time, like a month, to work out their plans,' Mr Chan said.

'Legco should react in a sensible way.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 11:17 PM   #600
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Saturday January 28 2006

Hui in fresh row with lawmakers

May Chan and Barclay Crawford

Chief secretary refuses to attend meeting on arts hub

Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan triggered a fresh row with legislators yesterday by refusing to attend or send a representative to their next meeting on the West Kowloon Cultural District project.

His refusal came as the government secured an indication from two of the three shortlisted bidders for the project - Henderson Land and a joint venture of Cheung Kong and Sun Hung Kai Properties - that they wished to remain in the bidding process.

The third bidder, Sunny Development, a consortium of Sino Land, Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings, said on Thursday it was staying in the race.

The Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands wrote to the Legislative Council's subcommittee for the project that Mr Hui 'does not see the need for him or the administration to meet with the subcommittee at this stage' given that it had already participated in previous meetings to explain policy and exchange views with subcommittee members about the project. The meeting will be held on Friday.

'We are aware of the subcommittee's views on the West Kowloon Cultural District project,' the letter said, adding that the government would take into account the views of the Legislative Council, alongside other parties, before formulating the next steps for the project.

The reply drew fierce criticism from members of the subcommittee, with its chairman, Alan Leong Kah-kit, saying he was seeking legal advice about summoning the chief secretary to the meeting using the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

'I find this letter totally unacceptable,' Mr Leong said.

'The three bidders have not confirmed their compliance with the new terms set out [by the administration] in October. This is not something they can meet to discuss and handle behind closed doors with the three bidders.'
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