22 January 2020
The government’s plan to take back some land from the Fanling Golf Course and utilize it for housing development has evoked mixed reactions in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
The government’s plan to take back some land from the Fanling Golf Course and utilize it for housing development has evoked mixed reactions in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Why clawing back land from Fanling golf course is a bad idea

Last week, the government announced that it would accept the recommendations put forward by the Task Force on Land Supply, including the one that suggests taking back 32 hectares of land within the Fanling Golf Course for public housing development.

In my opinion, the government is bowing to populist pressure on the issue, and the planned move would do little to address the long-term issue of land shortage in Hong Kong.

Worse still, what it would do is undermine the golf course, and take an irreversible toll on the city’s status as an international center for major sports events and erode confidence among global investors in our business environment.

The task force’s conclusion that public opinion is in favor of reclaiming part of the Fanling Golf Course came as no surprise.

It is because given the fact that the vast majority of the local public are unfamiliar with how the sport of golf actually works, nor do they understand the true significance of the environment and resources of the golf course, the result of the so-called “big debate” on land supply spearheaded by the task force would inevitably be biased against users of the golf course.

Apart from populist bias against golf club members, the administration’s decision to take back 32 hectares of land within the Fanling Golf Course to build an estimated 4,600 new homes may give rise to a number of other issues.

For example, the influx of new residents in the future is likely to lead to serious imbalance in the arrangements, including the transport infrastructure and ancillary facilities, related to daily life in the area, not to mention the prospect that a substantial increase in the number of private motorists would add heavy burden to the road traffic in Fanling.

Meanwhile, there is also a big question as to whether the Sheung Shui MTR Station can handle a huge extra number of passengers in the coming days.

Suffice it to say that the whole urban planning design of the district will be turned upside down and the entire ecological environment there will face great challenges due to the proposed housing project.

As to the Fanling Golf Course itself, although it will still occupy 140 hectares of land even with the housing development, the partial claw-back of the property would have an overall damaging effect on the golf course that is more than 100 years old.

In fact even the Secretary for Development, Michael Wong Wai-lun, has raised the concern that from now on, organizers of major international golf tournaments might stop choosing Hong Kong as a venue as a result of the decision.

Wong has good reason for worry, because snatching eight holes and the parking lot from the golf course, as well as building high-rise residential building next to it, will almost for certain deal a serious blow to the development of golf as an international sport in Hong Kong.

Looking at the broad picture, I believe the consequence of the government’s decision to partially retrieve land from the Fanling Golf Course would be a lose-lose situation, both in foreign and domestic terms.

In my view, the practical and effective way to resolve Hong Kong’s long-standing land shortage once and for all is to create new land through reclamation.

Compared to the plan of taking back 32 hectares of land in the Fanling Golf Course to build 4,600 new homes, the government’s proposal of reclaiming 1,000 hectares of land under the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project, which can provide 150,000 to 260,000 new homes, is undoubtedly the better solution that can truly get to the root of our land shortage problem.

Given this, what is expected from the government is the courage to reject unreasonable populist demands.

Quite a few of my foreign friends who have investments in Hong Kong have said that the developments related to the Fanling Golf Course have, to a considerable extent, dented their confidence about further investments in the city.

It is because they fear the capitulation over the Fanling Golf Course might just be the beginning, and they are afraid the administration may possibly again bow to populist pressure in the coming days and put forward policies that could affect the overall business environment in the city.

Hence, even though I don’t know much about golf myself, I strongly urge the government to think again and seriously consider withdrawing the Fanling plan.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Dr Allen Shi Lop-tak is the first vice president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong.