Hotel bid forces out rehab centre

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am


A drug rehabilitation centre for youths in Sai Kung is being forced out to make way for a new waterfront hotel.

The 193,000 sq ft area, also home to the Sai Kung Water Sports Training Centre and Happy Farm, an organic farm run by the Richmond Fellowship charity, was put up for sale by tender last week by the government.

The sale was triggered by a HK$580 million offer from an unknown bidder wanting to build a hotel. The government will consider other bids between September 23 and October 21.

The three current occupants have to leave within the month.

The arrangement is legally sound but until the rehabilitation group Sai Kung New Being Oasis took up the land, no one had wanted it for half a decade. The group's head said he was surprised by the speed with which its members were being asked to move. While the plot sat unused, the Home Affairs Bureau offered a short-term tenancy - allowing a low rent but requiring a short eviction notice - to organisations which it felt would be an asset to the community.

The rehabilitation centre has occupied 40,000 sq ft since it moved onto the site in May last year. Run by the Christian New Being Fellowship, it trains former teenage drug addicts in business skills. The first task was to knock the wasteland into shape by levelling the ground, laying power cables and drainage, and converting containers into offices and shops. The transformation cost more than HK$1 million over six months.

'New Being never expected the land to be auctioned so early,' said Sunny To Fung-sun, its director general. He was an opiumaddicted policeman more than 20 years ago. 'Almost all the equipment is in place and each feature of the Oasis, no matter big or small, has been built by the continuous efforts of our staff and kids.'

The short notice also surprised Alan Tam King-wah, the director general of the Sai Kung District Community Centre under the district's rural committee. He approached all three businesses that set up last year after the Home Affairs Bureau asked him to find worthwhile organisations for the land.

He said if he had known what a short period it was going to be he would not have invested. 'I expected at least two years. I don't think we can find a substitute for a location as good as this, but I'm trying to help or to work with the parties to carry on their projects.'

Tam had believed that given a height restriction of five storeys on any development and how little demand there was for the land, the chance of eviction was slim.

The centre attracts many visitors as former addicts train dogs, sell exotic plants and serve homemade herbal teas. It makes enough to cover its operating expenses.

Now developed, the plot has attracted three bids for redevelopment in the past two months. For five years previously, there were no bids.

'People here are joyful,' said Billy To Chi-lai, a visiting retail manager. 'It's quite rare to find a place like this, helping people get back on the right track.'

The youth-run social enterprise is one of four rehabilitation centres operated by New Being in Hong Kong.

It is a halfway house for those who have done their initial rehabilitation but need the community's help or career skills to reintegrate with society.

Leung Yiu-tat, a 21-year-old former ketamine addict, now spends his time tending to plants, managing stock and serving customers. But if the centre goes, he does not know what he will do.

'What a waste,' he said. 'Not only the money that was put in, but all the people's involvement. We learn things here that we can't learn elsewhere.'