A controversial HK$50 million municipal Music Fountain which opened in Hong Kong this week after months of official wrangling over the cost of the project has received a lukewarm public response.

The construction of the fountain in the city’s Kwun Tong district went ahead despite the district council passing a motion to halt the project last year. Yet, a day after opening, some of the facilities were not working.

The Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

With three performance sessions on weekdays, and five at weekends and on public holidays, HKFP visited the site on Friday, a day after the fountain opened, to gauge the public’s reaction.

Ahead of the 1.30pm show, dozens of people gathered around the fountain waiting for the performance to start.

The approximately 25-minute day-time shows do not include the night-time light effects, or what the government has described as “kaleidoscopic beams”, which may have gone some way to explaining the largely underwhelming public reaction.

Expectations vs. reality: An artist’s rendition of the plan, and the final product. Photo: HKFP.

Among those HKFP spoke to about the fountain was Ms. Fong, who travelled from Tuen Mun with her husband to see the fountain which she described as “average”.

“There’s no climax [in the performance],” said Fong. “We have watched for a while now, and nothing’s special. We originally wanted to bring our children here to watch the performance, but we have to reconsider now,” she said, adding: “Hong Kong needs facilities like this for people’s leisure, but whether it has to be at this cost is another thing.”

The Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

In 2016, the Hong Kong government reserved HK$1.8 billion for the city’s 18 districts to carry out community projects. The fourth Kwun Tong district council, which was dominated by pro-establishment councillors, approved the construction of the fountain.

The project, with a HK$50 million price tag, was initially voted down by a narrow margin at the Legislative Council (LegCo) in June, 2018. However, in a rare intervention, it was revived by the government with minor amendments and sent to the same subcommittee again a month later.

Mr. Wong (right) and his university friends visiting the Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Mr. Wong, a first year university student who visited the fountain with his friends for a project, said that the money could be better spent in other ways, and that he would not recommend a visit to his friends.

“I don’t think it’s worth [HK$50 million],” said Wong. “I think there are more worthwhile things to do, such as improving the traffic problems in the area.”

The audience comprised to people of all ages. Mr. Mak, a 70-something retiree, told HKFP that he and his wife came from Sha Tin specifically to watch the performance.

Mr. Mak at the Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“I think [the performance] is quite good,” said Mak, but added that he thought the now-demolished music fountain in New Town Plaza, Sha Tin, was better.

“I think it’s [the HK$50 million] is alright, if [the government] don’t make something like this, people won’t be able to watch it [the performances] … they should make some facilities like this for people”

Child’s play

Apart from the fountain, there are also adjacent interactive wet play zones open from 8.30am to 10.30pm daily.

Ms. Tang, who brought her two toddlers to the play zone, told HKFP that her children were more interested in the wet play zones that the music fountain.

“My kids enjoyed playing with their friends here,” said Tang. “The fountain performance was not that attractive to my kids, and I think that it looked weak.”

Kids playing at the wet play area next to the Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“I’ve been to Shenzhen’s OCT Harbour, I think that was a proper music fountain, this [the Kwun Tong music fountain] is child’s play.”

“It’s good that the kids have a new location to play, but if you’re just talking about the music fountain, I think it’s a bit too much,” she said.

‘Expected disappointment’

After the pro-democracy camp swept 388 out of 479 seats in the 2019 District Council Election, the Kwun Tong district council passed a motion in January last year with 28 councillors voting in favour and nine abstaining.

However, the Home Affairs Department said that since the project had begun and was funded by the LegCo Finance Committee, the construction would continue.

HKFP spoke to Kwun Tong district councillor Vincent Cheng, who visited the fountain on Thursday. He said that it was an “expected disappointment.”

Vincent Cheng, Kwun Tong district councillor. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“I’ve always known it [the fountain] would be disappointing, and when I went there, it fitted my expectations, because the fountain was not powerful and did not have much variety,” said Cheng.

“Some people even joked that it was worse than some fountains in housing estates, or even the shower in their homes, these are the voices of the people.

“Although some kids can play at the wet play area, I have to emphasise that the HK$50 million is not to serve a small group of people, we have to think how to let the most people benefit from it, I’m worried about its sustainability.”

Democratic Party member Cheng added that he did not see any of the pro-establishment politicians who approved the project on the fountain’s opening day.

“Whenever there was a grand project in the past, they would definitely be there, maybe deep down they know there are many people who criticise the project,” he said.

Frankie Ngan, a pro-establishment Kwun Tong district councillor who voted for the construction of the fountain, told HKFP that he visited the site on Friday.

“I think different people have different views on whether the performance is good,” said Ngan. “But I saw a few hundred people watching the show, I believe that the citizens’ reaction is the answer.”

Frankie Ngan visiting the Kwun Tong music fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Frankie Ngan, via Facebook.

When asked about the Home Affairs Department’s decision to ignore the incumbent Kwun Tong district council’s resolution to halt the project, Ngan said that the construction of the fountain was a decision of a former district council, and should not be interfered with.

“You have to think about where the money came from,” said Ngan. “It’s given by the last term of Hong Kong government to the fourth district council, not the current council. You can’t overturn a decision made by the former district council, or else does that mean that we have to discuss many motion from the beginning again?” he added.

The Kwun Tong Promenade Music Fountain on April 23, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Cheng said the construction of the fountain showed that the government still has a large proportion of power when it comes to explaining and implementing policies.

“When it’s beneficial to them, they would tell you to follow the procedure, but when it’s not, they would make a new goal and make excuses, the district council is pretty much limited by that,” he added.

Barriers around the interactive wet play area on April 24, 2021. Photo: Stand News.

Within 24 hours of HKFP‘s visit to the fountain, Stand News reported on Saturday that a tile at the interactive wet play area had come loose, and two nozzles seemed to be unresponsive. In a response to Stand News, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said that two tiles were “slightly dislocated,” and the issue had been fixed on Friday.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.