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designing hong kong
Cruise terminal building contract signed. Pity it is in the wrong location.

Another milestone in the cruise terminal saga: On 7 May 2010 the government celebrated signing a 4.9 billion dollar contract for the design and construction of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal building on the site of the former airport. Bringing the total investment closer to 10bln and counting.

Much is made about the fancy architecture of the terminal. The real question remains unanswered: Will this transport interchange provide world-class connectivity to cruise passengers? A bit of background first.

95% of cruise ship (dis)embarkations in Hong Kong take place mid stream. Exhausted passengers from ships offering gambling, sex and mediocre food during a night outside our territorial waters are picked up by small vessels which operate like minibuses. Their 15 minute route includes landing steps along the waterfront and passengers can get on/off anywhere closest to their home, hotel or work in Hung Hom, Tsimshatsui, Central and Wanchai. It has yet to be seen whether the new terminal will price itself cheap enough to attract our floating competition with Macao. One thing we do know: it will take more than 15 minutes from the tip of Kai Tak to anywhere else in Hong Kong.

The larger cruise ships on regional or global voyages berth at Ocean Terminal. Twice a year a cruise ship too large for Ocean Terminal berths in the container port. With ships getting larger, there is a need for improving Ocean Terminal and adding larger berthing facilities in Victoria Harbour.

What are the basic connectivity requirements for new cruise terminal facilities? Passengers want to connect conveniently with the airport in Chep Lap Kok, the Express Rail in West Kowloon and the through train in Hung Hom. Those who stay in Hong Kong want to visit tourist attractions before the ship leaves again. The top ten destinations are identified in Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Visitor Profile Reports (above).

Not only are all these transport and tourist destinations far away from the tip of the Kai Tak runway, a map of existing and planned rail lines shows that the cruise terminal will remain isolated. Hence, 20% of Kai Tak and much of its waterfront will be converted into roads to cope with taxis, coaches and trucks catering the terminal, adding to congestion on the rest of our road network. (The terminal is being built with your tax dollars, a decision made in 2008 after no conforming tender bids were received. Developers saw no value in property rights offered in this remote area.)

Since 2005 we have recommended West Kowloon. A recent illustration of the three rail stations in West Kowloon is a stark reminder of how we fail to integrate transport where we can. With a cruise terminal here, passengers could travel on to China, connect with the world using the Airport Express, or walk straight into the new cultural district and Tsimshatsui.

Is it too late to add a berthing facility in West Kowloon, connected with the Express Rail station? Maybe not. It is certainly never too late for a rethink of Kai Tak and for a more flexible planning and development process to avoid white elephants and to avoid waterfronts ruined by ever more road works.

Official website on the new cruise terminal
Government press statement on terminal design and construction contract

(Unverified latest gossip: contractors will have a hard time meeting the early completion promised by John Tsang last week. Rumours have it that the wrong steel is being used for the seawall piling contract. The caisons will need to be redone and that will take time.)

Overview of cruise terminal development by the Legislative Council

Overview of casino ships: gambling, sex and mediocre food

Previous newsletters on Kai Tak and the cruise terminal

2009: Kai Tak Disaster

2006: Cruise Terminal in West Kowloon

2005: Cruise Terminal – not in Kai Tak

2005: Report by Andrew O. Coggins, Jr., Ph.D., Cruise Industry Analyst
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