Frustration in Disco Bay as 'helipad' field used for sport shuts
They do not know the exact reason for its closure, but the loss of a makeshift playing field in Discovery Bay is definitely not a game for residents now forced to share one school pitch or travel outside the community to play sports.
The field, near Discovery Bay Marina Club, is known as the helipad, a grassy plot set aside for emergency helicopter use when there was no road link to Lantau Island.
Helicopters have not touched down there for several years, and hundreds of sporting residents ultimately adopted the space, using the 50 metre by 50 metre lot for such leisurely pursuits as soccer and rugby.
Then, more than a month ago, play was inexplicably banned at the location. The developer, Hong Kong Resort Co, said it was planning to provide a new pitch elsewhere in Discovery Bay. But the closure not only upset many residents, it drew attention to a flaw - the lack of public recreational space at Discovery Bay.
Tony Crampton, an advertising executive, said the problem was one of the reasons he and his wife may move their family out of the area. 'From our point of view, it's making living in Discovery Bay a little more difficult,' he said.
Another resident, Frank Meier, called the lack of recreational space 'a big problem'. Last Thursday, Meier played soccer with his teenaged son at the only other pitch, a small Astroturf field between the Discovery Bay International School and the SKH Wei Lun Primary School.
'This is the only real place where you can play soccer,' Meier said before taking to the field. 'It's booked out most of the time, especially during weekends.'
Meier said Discovery Bay's population had ballooned over the years, and the developer had done nothing to resolve the situation.
'The only thing that people feel they're interested in is building property here, selling flats and making money - that's my impression,' said Meier, who was not referring specifically to the helipad land.
Many residents have speculated for several years that Hong Kong Resort Co would eventually build on the helipad site.
In December 2000, the developer told the South China Morning Post that 'there is no plan for new development on the helicopter pad as yet'. Last week, its spokesman was emphatic in an e-mail, stressing there 'is NO plan' to do so. The reason the helipad was shut to the public was because 'a helipad is a helipad', the spokesman said.
He added: 'It is not recommended to play football or other sports games at the helipad, especially considering the fact that in Discovery Bay, a petrol filling station is located right next to the helipad.'
Moreover, the spokesman said, the space was 'reserved primarily' for helicopter services under the lease agreement.
The Lands Department also stated the pitch was on 'the helicopter-landing site provided and maintained by the grantee under the lease for Discovery Bay'.
The department, which did not reply to follow-up questions by press time, did not say if it had been involved in closing the field, only offering that 'the Discovery Bay Management Office locked up this site in mid-2009'.
The helipad has been used by residents as a sports pitch for more than 10 years. After its closure, children's soccer and rugby teams relocated some of their training sessions to a park or the beach because of limited options.
Islands district councillor Amy Yung Wing-sheung, a Discovery Bay resident, wrote to various departments asking, in part, whether the helipad property could again serve as a pitch. They did not object, she said.
The Civil Aviation Department told Yung that they had not had to evacuate anyone 'in recent years' and, with developed road and sea links, the need for a helipad in Discovery Bay 'may now be obsolete'.
The Planning Department responded that while the helipad was a 'service area', it could be zoned for other uses - and a temporary playing field would not contravene the provision of the town plan as long as it was only there for five years or less.
In addition, the Lands Department acknowledged that while it was not part of the lease, Hong Kong Resort Co, under the latest, 2000, master plan for Discovery Bay, had 'an obligation to replace the public golf course which was deleted' from the 1982 master plan.
'The said public recreational facilities amount to a total gross building area of 20,500 square metres and a gross site area of 340,476 square metres,' the Lands Department letter continued.
Yung said 'very little of the obligation has been fulfilled'.
Hong Kong Resort Co did not respond to a question about how many square metres of public recreational facilities it had added, but a spokesman said it was 'applying to the District Lands Office for a short-term waiver in relation to a site next to the DB Community Hall for the provision of a proposed soccer field'.
A field on that site would be a welcome relief to many, but it is also where Hong Kong Resort Co is supposed to build an indoor sports centre.
Colin Bosher, the chairman of Discovery Bay City Owners' Committee, said the committee wrote to the government, explaining that a sports field was 'extremely important to the community and Discovery Bay, and that we wouldn't stand in the way ... but we thought it should only be for a temporary period' of three years.
That was enough time for the government and Hong Kong Resort Co to find a permanent home for the field, he said.
'And, in fact, we even said there should be more than one field,' Bosher added. 'In Hong Kong, there's a shortage of football pitches and rugby pitches, and to have that kind of centre in Discovery Bay would enhance it considerably.'