23 October 2016
Kitchee Centre, which serves as a football training arena, also provides free courses to children. Photo: HKEJ,
Kitchee Centre, which serves as a football training arena, also provides free courses to children. Photo: HKEJ,

Kitchee gets some relief amid govt plan to take back sports site

The government has confirmed that it plans to utilize for a public housing project a site in Shek Mun in New Territories that currently houses a football training center.

Under the plan, the land that has been leased to the Jockey Club Kitchee Centre (JCKC) will be taken back and rezoned in order to facilitate a housing project.

However, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Monday that Kitchee will not be asked to hand over the site immediately when its lease expires next year.

The government is willing to extend the lease on a short-term basis until JCKC finds a suitable alternative site to relocate its football training center, Leung said.

The assurance came as the planned repossession of the site caused uproar among the soccer community, as well as the general public, after the news broke over the weekend.

Kitchee officials were upset as they will have to make fresh plans after opening their sports center only last year.   

The government is said to be looking to redevelop the 1.5-hectare JCKC site and some adjacent land in order to facilitate a 1,400-unit public housing complex and a school.

JCKC officials were agitated about the plan as they had invested as much as HK$84 million in setting up the football training center. Any relocation so soon will entail huge losses, the officials feared.  

JCKC was set up with a HK$63 million donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and a HK$21 million contribution from the Kitchee Football Club.

The center is managed by Kitchee. Apart from being used as a football training arena, it also provides free elite training courses for children aged between six and 12.

The government is now keen to redevelop the site for housing despite originally classifying it for leisure purposes.

Following concerns expressed by JCKC and locals, the Housing Authority has had consultations with Shatin District Councilors over the issue, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

With Leung now taking a softer line and agreeing to a lease extension for the sports center, Kitchee issued a statement and thanked the public for their overwhelming support on the matter.

Kitchee pointed out in its statement that the property was zoned as ‘Open Space’, and was originally intended for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to develop a recreational and sports facility.

Unless the Town Planning Board re-zones the site, it cannot be used to build housing estates as proposed, it noted.

Kitchee acknowledged that its existing lease will expire in 2017. If it is asked to leave, it will mean a devastating blow to the football community and the future of the sport in Hong Kong, it said.

The centre, which has been in use for just one year, has gone into operation after six years of planning and construction.

Kitchee Football Club chairman Ken Ng said the government has not yet tabled any concrete plan or held discussions as to how it will redevelop the plot.

He said he hopes that authorities will understand how detrimental the proposal will be to Hong Kong’s football development over the long term.

Ng noted in a media interview that the JCKC was the built with “immense policy support” from the Home Affairs Bureau, which was headed by former Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing. 

A team coach, Alex Chu, pointed out that redeveloping the center will mean waste of time and resources. He pointed out that it takes up to ten years to train footballers with potential, and that Hong Kong has suffered from lack of practicing pitches for footballers.

Kitchee is the first to build its own training areas, and many football clubs are planning to follow in its footsteps. Any changes now to JCKC can have a negative impact on the entire sport.

Kitchee first team captain Lo Kwan-yee said that it is a very rare chance that local footballers can get to have a proper training area, especially as the grass pitch is up to par.

Hong Kong Premier League club Eastern FC goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai said the government has always been only paying lip service to sports development in Hong Kong, even after 2009 when Hong Kong won in the East Asian Games football finals.

The government seems unmoved by any sports events, Yapp added.

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