Long-term leases for top clubs despite review call

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2011, 12:00am

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The government plans to renew 15-year leases for dozens of exclusive clubs enjoying prime sites despite a lawmakers' motion calling on it to offer only short-term tenancies until a review is completed.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said yesterday officials were negotiating with 55 private recreational clubs whose leases were up for renewal between this month and the end of next year.

He said officials were seeking to impose new conditions in the leases to allow greater access, but refused to give details until the process was completed.

'These sports clubs are still responding to the demands of many people in a society with diverse needs and they merit policy support on the grounds of sports promotion,' the minister said.

'Unless the land concerned has been planned for other uses, we intend to support the renewal of the leases that will expire shortly,' he added.

The 55 institutions whose leases will soon expire include the city's seven most exclusive recreation clubs: Chinese Recreation Club, Clear Water Bay Golf and Country Club, Kowloon Cricket Club, Hong Kong Country Club, Hong Kong Football Club, the Deep Water Bay clubhouse of the Hong Kong Golf Club and Craigengower Cricket Club. The leases of most expire on December 25.

They were granted land decades ago at no cost or at a nominal premium of HK$1,000, while charging tens of thousands to millions of dollars for a membership.

A row over the leases started last year after the South China Morning Post reported that these institutions, in return for cheap land, were required by the land leases to open their doors to schools, young people and social organisations but had seldom, if ever, done so.

In July, lawmakers passed a non-binding motion calling for any new leases to be short-term - three to five years - until there had been a consultation on the public-access requirements and a policy review.

Yesterday, Tsang said short-term leases would disrupt the clubs' operations such as staff recruitment and renovation plans.

Under a proposal by the Home Affairs Bureau in July, the clubs, on renewal, would have to open up facilities to outside bodies for 50 hours a month, instead of the current nine hours a week; remove conditions that bar public access during weekends and public holidays; introduce cheaper, junior membership schemes for young sportsmen; and remove obsolete conditions such as barring outsiders from using toilet facilities in changing rooms.

Tsang said the government would have plenty of time to conduct a cross-department review of the land grant policy in the 15 years. But lawmaker Tanya Chan criticised Tsang for being too slow with the review.

Of the seven clubs, only Craigengower Cricket Club responded to requests for comment. Manager Ludwig Lee Sheung-shun said the club, in principle, had agreed to greater-access conditions that officials proposed earlier. The club in Happy Valley would open its squash courts, table-tennis room, bowls lawn, tennis courts and billiard rooms to groups by appointment. It had not decided how much to charge for a junior membership fee, compared to the ordinary fee of HK$300,000.

90%

of schools, sports and welfare groups were unaware they could already use facilities at private clubs, a survey by Tanya Chan found