Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah came under fire at a Legislative Council panel meeting as lawmakers slammed proposed changes to the Private Recreational Lease (PRL) policy, saying the government is trying to go easy on private sports clubs while offering no real benefits to the public.
On March 20, Lau announced proposed modifications to the PRL policy, as recommended by an inter-departmental working group.
According to the proposals, private sports clubs suitable for lease renewal will be asked to pay a concessionary premium to be set at one-third of the market value. However, it would only apply to new contracts signed from 2027.
The clubs will also be asked to open their facilities to eligible outside bodies at up to 30 percent of their total sports capacity.
Most of the lawmakers who joined the panel set up to review the PRL policy were not satisfied with the proposed changes.
At the panel’s meeting on Monday, which Lau attended, lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin criticized the government for trying to enable the operator of the 170-hectare Fanling Golf Course to renew the lease but ignoring the housing needs of the public, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
That the proposed premium will not take effect until 2027 shows the government clearly wants to pave the way for the operator to keep running the golf course, whose contract will in fact expire in August 2020, Wan said.
The Democratic Party lawmaker said the government can just stop leasing the land and use it for residential development.
Wan also asked why the government refuses to develop the site on the ground that it has many heritage trees and historically valuable architecture but insists on developing the northeastern part of the New Territories, where there are also many trees of the kind.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong said setting the premium of a PRL site at one-third of the market value was insignificant.
The main income of these private clubs is not from running sports facilities but from catering and entertainment, Chan noted.
She cited the case of one cricket club, which earned HK$9 million a year in revenue from catering and nearly HK$1 million from hosting mahjong sessions.
It is no wonder that people are crying injustice, Chan said, noting that a sports club currently pays a rent of only HK$33.2 per square meter, compared with more than HK$770 in most other places.
However, Liberal Party lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai came to the defense of the sports clubs, saying that setting the premium too high would put them out of business and hurt the sports they are trying to support in the city.
In his reply, Lau said his office would only propose policy changes based on the views of the public, adding that no sports club is able to renew its lease indefinitely.
A six-month consultation to solicit views from the public and stakeholders on the proposed policy changes has begun on March 20 and will last until Sept. 19.
Members of the public may send in their views directly to the Home Affairs Bureau during the period.
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