The Department of Home Affairs has set up a task force to review the government’s existing policy on “private recreational leases” (PRLs).
On Wednesday last week the task force proposed several new arrangements for the future management of PRL sites, and announced that it would launch a six-month public consultation on its new proposals.
The task force’s announcement has drawn a lot of attention because the review is going to cover the Fanling golf club, which has recently generated a lot of controversy because of the 170 hectares of land it occupies.
There have been mounting calls for the government to take back the land for housing projects.
At present, 66 parcels of land are being rented to private entities under the PRLs. Among them, 27 are occupied by private sports clubs and 39 by charity organizations and local sports associations.
As Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah has explained, tenants are renting these premium lots almost for free under the existing terms of the PRLs. This has to change. Such preferential treatment is getting a lot of flak from the public.
The task force has suggested that the terms of the current PRLs be rewritten so that the government can charge private sports clubs that are eligible for tenancy renewal a new land premium at around one-third of the market price.
Under the proposed new terms, these members-only clubs will also have to open 30 percent of their facilities to the public for at least 240 activity hours per month.
According to the government’s stage-by-stage plan, private sports clubs whose PRLs already expired in 2011 or 2012 will have to pay the new land premium when they renew their next tenancy agreement.
For clubs whose PRLs are due to expire between 2014 and 2024, they will have to pay the new land price in 2027.
As far as tenants whose leases won’t expire until 2056 are concerned, they will also have to pay the extra premium after the expiry date unless their tenancy agreements are terminated or reviewed at their request before that.
In the case of Fanling golf club, there are still nine years before it has to pay the new land premium.
As to why the proposed new land premium is set at one-third of the market price, Secretary Lau explained that many of these clubs might be forced to shut down if the level of the premium was too high.
However, we find Secretary Lau’s explanation hardly convincing, or at least it doesn’t apply to the exclusive golf clubs.
Take the Fanling golf club as an example. The fee for corporate membership stands at over HK$10 million each. All it has to do is draw in a few more corporate members, and the fees it would pocket would be more than enough to cover the new land premium.
No wonder the government proposal has drawn criticism from not only the pan-democrats but also from pro-establishment lawmakers.
To put it in a nutshell, the proposed amendments to the existing PRLs put forward by the administration are so unconvincing because the housing shortage in our city has become so acute that demanding these cash-flush sports clubs to pay several hundred million dollars more for their land can hardly ease public anger.
True, we should not strangle the development of golf in Hong Kong, even though it is only a niche sport. Nevertheless, is it really true that there isn’t a single inch of land in the 170-hectare Fanling golf club that we can use to build new homes?
We have said so many times before that we are totally in favor of the plan to use the 32 hectares of land in the eastern section of the Fanling golf course for housing development as recommended in an earlier consultancy report commissioned by the government.
According to the report, that piece of land would be enough to build 4,600 new homes for 13,000 people.
This partial development option can, in fact, create a win-win situation: the hundred-year-old Fanling golf club will be preserved and our city’s housing shortage will be alleviated.
Besides, that 32 hectares of land can house more than 13,000 people if the government eases the restriction on the development density of the project.
The government has failed to fulfill its pledge to find land for building new homes. That is why developing part of the Fanling golf course to ease the housing shortage has become a viable option on the table.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 9
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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