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Additional development parameters and conditions for WKCD have fully responded to public concerns

Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands, Mr Michael Suen, said today (February 8) that the Government had fully responded to public concerns by proposing proactively the introduction of additional development parameters and conditions for the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) development project. This also allowed the Government to make the best use of what had been done under the current development framework and to shape the WKCD project in accordance with the public's wishes.

Responding to the motion debate at the Legislative Council (LegCo) on the reports of Subcommittee on WKCD Development, Mr Suen said that the Government proposed last October additional development parameters and conditions to address public concerns raised during the consultation period. The proposals had received general support from the public afterwards.

The new development parameters and conditions include:

(1) Abolishing the single-development approach by requiring the successful proponent to carve out at least 50% of the commercial and residential gross floor area (GFA) at the WKCD site for other developers to bid under an open and fair process;

(2) Setting the maximum plot ratio at 1.81;

(3) Capping the residential development at no more than 20% of the total GFA;

(4) Specifying a minimum net operating floor area for core arts and cultural facilities of at least one-third of the total GFA of the WKCD; and

(5) Requiring the successful proponent to pay $30 billion upfront to establish a fund to ensure sufficient funds for the sustainable operation of the WKCD.

"The Government stands firm on these development parameters and conditions, i.e. the carving-out arrangement, the caps on plot ratio and percentage of residential development, and the payment of $30 billion upfront to establish a fund to sustain the operation of WKCD," Mr Suen said.

However, Mr Suen expressed disappointment that the Legco Subcommittee on WKCD Development apparently did not totally recognise these efforts, and that recommendations in its reports deviated substantially from the original concept of the Government in developing the WKCD.

He pointed out that some of the Subcommittee's recommendations, such as those relating to the conduct of extensive and structured consultation on the project, the due process to ensure transparency and accountability in decision making, and the adoption of an integrated approach in the planning for the WKCD, were actually in chorus with the principles all along adopted by the Government in taking forward the WKCD project. As to the Subcommittee's recommendation of abandoning the single-development approach, the Government had accepted it in response to the views of the public and Legco. For other recommendations by the Subcommittee, the Government would give due consideration to them when planning the next steps for the WKCD.

Mr Suen dismissed as a misunderstanding over some Legco members' criticism that the new proposal allowing the successful proponent to develop two-thirds of the GFA was equivalent to maintaining the "single-development" approach. He noted that half of such development right involved the construction of at least a GFA of 210,000 square metres for arts and cultural facilities which would not bring profits to the successful proponent as a whole, nor could they be sold. In taking forward the WKCD project, the Government would ensure that public interests are fully protected under the proposed development approach.

"Since the beginning of the WKCD project, the Government has never negotiated or bargained with the proponents. Nor has the Government reached any private deals or made any promises with individual proponents. We have provided the same information to the three proponents simultaneously. The process is absolutely fair and there are no 'secret dealing' at all," Mr Suen stressed.

On the three screened-in proponents' responses made last month to the development parameters and conditions proposed by the Government, Mr Suen said, "Just as we explained to the public earlier, the screened-in proponents have raised some specific questions about the proposed development parameters and conditions, including arrangements for the carving out of commercial and residential portions, use of the sale proceeds from the carved-out portions, contributions towards the $30 billion fund, the role of successful proponents in the operation of the WKCD, etc."

"We need some time to study the questions raised by the proponents and to consult relevant departments and the Executive Council, before deciding the next step to meet public aspirations and safeguard public interests."

The Government, Mr Suen said, had not set a timetable for the selection of the successful proponent at present. It would report the latest development for the WKCD to Legco after carefully considering the proponents' responses and seeking advice from the Executive Council.

"The Government has all along been listening to the community and keeping the public abreast of the progress in developing the WKCD. In essence, public views are the cornerstone in shaping the WKCD," he said.

On the cultural front, Mr Suen reasserted that there is a cultural policy in Hong Kong, adding that Hong Kong is a free society and that the Government has maintained the principle of respecting creative work and the freedom of expression both before and after the handover of the territory.

Just as the Culture and Heritage Commission indicated in its Policy Recommendation Report, Mr Suen noted that the WKCD project presented an unprecedented opportunity and was an important part in the arts and cultural development in Hong Kong. Various sectors in Hong Kong, particularly the arts and cultural sector, had great aspirations for the WKCD. Mr Suen hoped that all Legco members would recognise and understand the Government's cultural perspective, and adopt a more pragmatic attitude towards the WKCD project.

"Gaining community support and securing market acceptance are necessary pre-requisites for the successful implementation of the WKCD project. We hope to follow through the current development framework for the WKCD and, through establishing a partnership with the private sector, to shape a world-class integrated arts and cultural district that meets public aspirations."

"We will also keep on listening to views of various sectors, in particular the arts and cultural sector and relevant professional groups. At the same time, we will continue to report the progress of the project to Legco, and to consult Legco members on the preferred proposal before signing any agreements. No doubt the Government would certainly take public interests as the basis in making a decision on the way forward for the WKCD. I hope all Legco members, together with the Government and the general public, would continue to contribute towards the development of the WKCD," Mr Suen said.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Issued at HKT 21:13