18 July 2019
Stanley Wong, chairman of the Task Force On Land Supply, said he and his colleagues would put together their final report to the government based on public views. Photo: HKEJ
Stanley Wong, chairman of the Task Force On Land Supply, said he and his colleagues would put together their final report to the government based on public views. Photo: HKEJ

Playing golf and building public housing not mutually exclusive

The question of whether the 172 hectares of land occupied by the Fanling golf club should be taken back for housing development after its tenancy expires in 2020 is expected to be the focus of an upcoming meeting of the Task Force On Land Supply under the Development Bureau, which is going to debate and consult the public on the issue at the end of this month.

The government is also going to launch a six-month public consultation over proposed changes to the existing policy on “private recreational leases” (PRLs), under which private entities such as members-only sports clubs can rent government lots in prime locations almost for free.

The public consultation over the two issues will last until September this year.

When asked what he would do if there are conflicting views in society over the issues, Task Force chairman Stanley Wong said he and his colleagues would put together their final report to the government based on “public views”.

At present, the prevailing “public views” appear to favor taking back the land occupied by the Fanling golf club for public housing projects.

After all, the golf club only has 2,610 members, while there are some 210,000 citizens living in subdivided flats across the city, not to mention the 300,000 people that are still on the waiting list for public rental housing (PRH) flats.

Another round of Legislative Council by-elections will probably be held in the not-too-distant future, and that being the case, the land issue is once again likely to be a dominant campaign theme for candidates from both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps.

As far as the pan-dems are concerned, they are for taking back the Fanling golf course for housing development.

In the case of the pro-Beijing camp, it is also unlikely that its candidates would throw their weight behind the golf club amid mounting public grievances against the preferential treatment enjoyed by the “privileged few”.

Let’s not forget it was lawmaker Lau Kwok-fan representing the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) who took the lead in lambasting the government after the Home Affairs Bureau put forward its proposals on PRLs, which include allowing private sports clubs to pay a land premium at only one-third of the market price when they renew their tenancy.

Amid intense public pressure, election candidates – pan-democratic and pro-establishment alike – are likely to side with the popular view that the government should take back the land occupied by the rich and the powerful. That’s because the candidates could not afford to alienate their voters.

Like we have said before, one viable solution at this point is for the government to “steer a middle course” by retrieving the 32 hectares of land to the east of Fan Kam Road within the golf course for housing development as recommended in an earlier consultancy report commissioned by the government.

According to the report, the site would provide 4,600 new homes for some 13,000 people.

The consultancy report could have understated the highest possible development density of the land in question; some experts are saying it could house over 100,000 people.

But that doesn’t change the fundamental fact that this partial development plan can create a win-win situation for both the Fanling golf club and the public.

In our opinion, continuing to allow rich people to play golf and building more affordable homes for those in need aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. All it takes is for our decision-makers to have a flexible mindset.

But of course, even if the partial development program of the Fanling golf club does eventually materialize, it is still far from enough to resolve Hong Kong’s acute land shortage.

At the end of the day, the government would still need to think outside the box and seriously study the feasibility of other options such as reclaiming land outside the Victoria Harbour.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 4

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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