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‘White elephant’ that won’t go away: fate of HK$50m Kwun Tong musical fountain to be decided at legislature

A proposal for a musical fountain in Kwun Tong is in the final stages of approval at the Legislative Council despite a price tag of HK$50 million and heated opposition by pro-democracy lawmakers.

Described as a “white elephant” project by some Kwun Tong residents and district council members, the proposal has been debated at various LegCo subcommittees since last year. The proposal was narrowly voted down in June, but in a rare intervention, it was revived by the government with minor amendments and sent to the same subcommittee again this week.

Kwun Tong promenade music fountain

Artist rendering of the proposed music fountain. Photo: LegCo.

Lawmaker Charles Mok, convener of the pro-democracy camp, said on Wednesday that the government was bending the rules. He sarcastically compared it to a losing World Cup team asking for a rematch.

“Colombia lost against England because James Rodríguez was injured… Why don’t we wait for him to come back and let Colombia play again? That way everyone is happy,” Mok said.

Charles Mok

Charles Mok. Photo: inmediahk.net.

A vote is slated take place when the Public Works Subcommittee meets again next Wednesday.

Signature Project Scheme

The music fountain proposal was first introduced in 2014 as part of the Signature Project Scheme, which allocated HK$100 million to each of Hong Kong’s 18 districts to carry out what then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying called “signature projects.”

The location chosen for the fountain was the lawn of the Kwun Tong Promenade, a kilometre-long waterfront walkway popular among the district’s residents.

The promenade – itself the product of an earlier revitalisation project – opened to the public in 2010. The area was converted from a seaside loading dock for the recycling paper industry, and now boasts 4.13 hectares of open space.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Residents told HKFP that the promenade felt different than other recreational spaces because the lawn was not fenced off, and the barriers on the waterfront had an unobtrusive design.

During weekends, families, joggers, amateur fishermen, students and people doing yoga can be seen sharing the space. The promenade is also used on workdays by office workers who prefer a quiet spot for lunch.

Mrs. Tam, a housewife in her 40s, told HKFP on Friday that she came to the Promenade with her young son because it had a variety of recreational facilities.

Kwun Tong Promenade

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“On Saturdays and Sundays a lot of people sit on the grass,” she said.

She opposed the music fountain because it would take away from the lawn spaces, adding that a musical fountain felt “old-fashioned” and would not be of interest to her or her child.

The government has said that the fountain will occupy 3,740 square metres, less than 5 per cent of the total lawn area of the promenade.

Kwun Tong Promenade

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Another visitor, Mrs. Cheung, said that she was not opposed to the fountain as a concept, but thought the HK$50 million price tag – representing half of Kwun Tong district’s Signature Projects Scheme funds – was too expensive.

The proposal has also been met with more organised opposition, including four Kwun Tong District Council members who unsuccessfully tried to redirect the funds towards elderly care. Other activists and politicians have also raised concerns that the project will lead to water wastage and traffic congestion.

The government, citing poll numbers produced by the pro-Beijing DAB party, said 85 per cent of respondents supported the proposal. Pro-democracy lawmakers were quick to point out that another 2015 poll conducted by the Kowloon East Community Concern Group arrived at the exact opposite result, with 85 per cent of respondents in opposition.

Kwun Tong promenade music fountain

Photo: LegCo.

The fountain proposal was eventually passed at the Kwun Tong District Council in 2015 with the backing of pro-establishment votes, following which it must seek funding approval from the Legislative Council.

‘Infinite reincarnation’

The proposal was debated at the Legislative Council Public Works Subcommittee on June 11, and – in a surprising turn – was rejected by 17 to 16 votes. The pro-establishment faction had a majority within the subcommittee but, during the voting, some members were absent, leading to the upset.

However, the government sent the proposal to the subcommittee for approval again, with the only difference being an amendment to the arrangement of the fountains.

Democratic Party District Councillor Cheng Keng-ieong. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Democratic Party District Councillor Cheng Keng-ieong. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The Democratic Party led a protest outside the legislature on Wednesday, saying that the amendment did not follow protocol.

“We think [the government] does not respect the legislative process. The Public Works Subcommittee just voted it down, but now they’re sending it again without adequate consultation,” said Cheng Keng-ieong, a Kwun Tong District Council member.

The Public Works Subcommittee met on Wednesday but no conclusion was reached; a vote on the musical fountain is expected at its next meeting on Wednesday.

Kwun Tong Promenade

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Lawmaker Mok said at the subcommittee meeting that the government re-submitted the proposal because last time it did not get the “desired result.”

“If there were not enough people [from the pro-establishment faction], then we wait until enough people show up,” Mok said. “With this kind of infinite reincarnation, why do you need the Public Works Subcommittee at all?”

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'White elephant' that won't go away: fate of HK$50m Kwun Tong musical fountain to be decided at legislature