Kai Tak Sports Park faces opposition from cost overruns, relevance

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Another round of Legco filibustering is entirely predictable if the government fails to address concerns over the Kai Tak Sports Park project.

The Hong Kong government will have to convince lawmakers that the Kai Tak Sports Park (KTSP) is not a ‘white elephant project’ nor another Hong Kong Coliseum which has effectively become a concert hall, falling far short of the major sports venue it was meant to be.

The government recently launched a public consultation on the establishment of a Kai Tak Sports Park, a project spanning over 28 hectares of the old airport site. The layout plan includes a main stadium with up to 50,000 seats, a public sports ground for domestic and lower level matches and an indoor sports arena for community sports activities.

The initial plan to have a sports complex was formulated in 2009 following a three-phase studies on Kai Tak development. Considered one of the most ambitious sports infrastructure in decades, the KTSP aims at offering venues for world-level events, supporting elite athletes and promoting community sports.

There has been no lack of controversy throughout the process. One of the major questions is whether the KTSP should be built on a prime urban location, taking up precious land that could be used for housing instead.

For instance, the Development Bureau once considered moving the KTSP to Sunny Bay in northeast Lantau, only to back down amid opposition from the sports sector. Several civilian groups suggested rezoning eight hectares of land north of the Main Stadium to build 11,000 public flats, but the proposal could not pass the Town Planning Board review.


More budget overruns…

The construction costs for KTSP were originally estimated to be HK$25 billion, and completion was scheduled for 2019. However, it has become evident that there will be budget overruns and a delay of three years.

According to He Hua-han (何華漢), Kowloon City District Council member representing Kai Tak South, the government did not update the new estimated costs, but the sports industry is anticipating a staggering HK$10 billion overrun, provided that construction works can start in 2018.

“When the proposal was debated in the District Council, many of us were concerned about how the Sports Park will be positioned and whether it will have sufficient supporting facilities and transport infrastructure,” he says. “Nonetheless, the councillors generally welcomed the creation of a sports complex that can meet international standards. The government should take the initiative to promote both elite and community sports. By hosting major events we can also facilitate a new drive for the city’s declining tourism.”

Kai Tak South District Councillor He Hua-han.
Kai Tak South District Councillor He Hua-han.

The pro-establishment independent district councillor noted that noise produced from the KTSP might spark discontent among prospective residents in the seven prime land lots nearby, which will be put on sale by the end of this year. Questions were also raised over whether the Ma Tau Wai and Kai Tak MTR stations, both scheduled for completion in 2019, will have sufficient capacity for 50,000 people during event days. The government is yet to adequately address these two concerns.

According to the Global Observatory for Physical Activity, Hong Kong’s prevalence of physical activity for people aged above 18 was 40%. Japan, South Korea and Singapore all attained above 60% around 2012. Hong Kong is evidently underachieving, but opponents of the proposal are challenging whether a huge stadium built on the valuable Kowloon harbourfront is part of the solution.


Too big to fill?

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan (黃碧雲), representing Kowloon West, is sceptical. “We are against the government spending pointless money by the name of [promoting] sports on building stadiums that can hardly be filled. This will only serve other events that have nothing to do with sports,” Wong argues. However, the Democratic Party will not declare a stance before the detailed budget is available.

Wong’s concern is not unfounded. A closer look into the Hong Kong Coliseum shows that only three major sports events were held in the venue over the past year, compared to a total of 38 concerts and cultural events. Post-Umbrella Legco hopefuls, such as spokesperson for the Kowloon East Community Chan Chak-to (陳澤滔), have already warned of a filibuster if the plan is to be submitted to the Legco without revisions – provided that they can grab any of the 70 seats.

Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok (馬逢國) dismisses the worries. He claims that the main stadium will give priority to major sports events, while the medium and small-sized venues in the KTSP can provide synergies and accommodate different needs.

“You’d expect the turnover of holding a non-sports event in KTSP’s main stadium to be a few times more than that in Hong Kong Coliseum, which can only fit in no more than 12,500 seats, in which case more time slots can be dedicated for sports events,” Ma explains. “In the long run, we hope that the KTSP can help the sports sector become a self-sustaining industry (產業化).”

He Hua-han believes that the government will have to strike a balance between sports and non-sports elements of the complex.

“Above all, the government needs to come up with a long term goal and convince stakeholders that the park will be diverse in its functions and sustainable in its operations,” he asserts. “You can’t be like the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which despite all the great hardwares, only focuses on cruise businesses and turns out having cruises docked at the terminal only for 60 days over the past year.”

He also recommends a rebate mechanism which will require the operator to offer part of the advertisement revenues to the sports sector in the form of rent discounts. Though he also stresses that such a mechanism will have to be agreed upon by the two sides under active government engagement.

“Like the Harbourfront Commission, the government should establish a similar committee for the KTSP,” He concludes. “To this end, I hope the new Sports Commissioner, who has been keeping a rather low profile, will really take the initiative to meet with stakeholders from different sectors.”

The public consultation period will end on 19 July. It will be up to the next administration to prove that Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) was wrong when he suggested in 2014 that the sports sector does not contribute to the economy.