• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 6:54am
PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 3:09am

Use Fanling golf club site for homes, not Hong Kong's farmland

Albert Cheng says the housing plan for the northeastern New Territories needs to be abandoned in favour of redevelopment of private clubs


Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  

After the July 1 protest rally, the government has desperately tried to placate sweltering public discontent with sweeteners. Hence, the unveiling of modified redevelopment plans for the northeastern New Territories.

Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po called the plan the ultimate and strengthened version, hoping it would generate a more positive public response.

It has, however, provoked spirited criticism from all sectors. The strongest opposition has come from local villagers and environmental groups. Villagers have threatened to occupy the Fanling golf club to protest against a proposed plan that would take their farmland and homes for development. They have demanded that the plan be scrapped.

If Chan really meant what he said, that the government would consider recovering the land from the golf club for housing development, it's possible that a miracle could happen, and the government could revive its rock-bottom approval ratings. However, Chan doesn't seem to have the political stamina to see it through.

In the past, Chan has said that, to make the best use of land, the government could and would recover any land for housing or redevelopment - be it land used for a private golf course, farmland, or even land zoned for military use by the People's Liberation Army. Singapore is already looking into this: the government has said it could redevelop some golf courses for housing.

Hong Kong would benefit immensely if it were to do the same. Unfortunately, as they stand, the revised plans for development have been dubbed by some as the "strengthened version" to fortify government-business collusion.

The Fanling golf club and Happy Valley racecourse are but colonial-era remnants

The only difference from the previous proposal is a narrowing of the scope of development, focusing on Kwu Tung North and Fanling North as an extension to Fanling/Sheung Shui New Town, covering an area of 333 hectares. Under current plans, up to 60,000 flats will be built to accommodate nearly 180,000 people. About 60 per cent of the homes would be public housing.

Unfortunately, the plan includes recovering a lot of farmland, which has angered the rural population and indigenous villagers, even though the government is willing to compromise by allowing in situ land exchange.

With the rezoning of the land, many believe that it is a direct transfer of benefits to the owners of swathes of farmland in the New Territories, such as Henderson Land and New World Development. No wonder there are accusations of collusion.

If Chan really wants to help the government redeem some credibility, he should first resolve the Fanling golf club land issue instead of eyeing the farmland in Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, which will almost certainly provoke public outrage and opposition from villagers. The Hong Kong Golf Club course may not be as big a plot of land as the other two combined, but at 170 hectares, it is still pretty substantial and sufficient to accommodate 30,000 flats.

However, its club members are among the richest and most powerful people in the city. Thus, the government will face strong countervailing forces if it tries to resume the golf course land. But it is precisely because of this that the administration would earn a big round of applause from the public if it succeeded.

According to the land lease, the government only needs to give 12 months' notice to the club before it can recover the land. Chan really doesn't have to do much other than stand his ground to achieve the goal because of the massive public support behind the idea. Once this is achieved, it could trigger a chain reaction for recovery of similar pieces of land, to help resolve the perennial land supply shortage in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong isn't short of golf courses. On Hong Kong Island, there is a nine-hole course at Deep Water Bay and one in Shek O. There is another in Discovery Bay. The New Territories boasts two, including one in Clear Water Bay. And, since the handover, many Hongkongers go across the border to play golf. So there is no shortage of choice.

In fact, there are many plots of land in urban areas that are as big as the Fanling golf club site, which can be redeveloped for housing. It may be time for the government to rethink its housing and land policy. The Happy Valley racecourse is a good example. Even if it's not resumed for housing development, it could be redeveloped to provide ample public spaces for all to enjoy.

The Fanling golf club and Happy Valley racecourse are nothing but colonial-era remnants of a time when public resources were enjoyed by a privileged few. Times have changed and government policy must give priority to the public good. It's not only politically correct; it's also an act of sincerity to share the fruits of prosperity with the people.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

The golf club is available for all members of the public to play Monday to Fridays. It also hosts one of Asia's premier sporting events attended by over 10,000 people. HK has plenty of land and there is no need to concrete over every green space we have. Where in the world would consider ripping up a 140 year old golf course! Why are male heirs of the NT entitled to 700 sq. ft. of land whereas 7m others are not? Let's get a proper discussion going with some sense and logic. Let's discuss real issues of land use (industrial, farm land, country park, government buildings etc.) and actually ask e people what they want. Albert only wants to promote the politics of envy and hate. What has this place we all call home come to?
If Fanling GC is not redeveloped as housing, make it a public course.
John Adams
Places for sport which use a lot of land should be judged on how many normal people (meaning non-members of exclusive clubs ) use them per square foot per month, whether to play or to watch others play.
On this basis all golf ranges come out bottom of the list by a long way, and so automatically should be the first to be developed into new housing and/ or public parks (That includes Deep Water Bay golf course : if a certain tycoon wants a golf course on his doorstep then let him buy the land at a public land auction at market rate and set up his own personal private golf club : he can afford to pay that much as tea money )
Personally I hate horse-racing, not to mention the huge traffic jams that racing days cause, but without doubt there is huge public participation from the man-in-the-street. So regardless of whether it's a left-over of the colonial era it needs to stay.
Running tracks, football, rugby pitches (Southorn playground ! ) .... all these facilities are public and are also used by schools. Young people and anyone can use these facilities. That's a very good thing.
But why should huge flat and beautiful areas of the SAR be rented out at $1 / year for a very few privileged, rich elite who can easily afford to buy the land at market price, or else drive to Shenzhen in their Rolls Royces? This is total nonsense !
If Fanling GC is not redeveloped as housing, make it a public course.
John Adams
Dear Sir,
I think you should do your own basic research first - at least as regards golf courses.
What percentage of HK residents have the slightest interest in golf - either to play (or to watch, that's if they are even allowed onto the golf courses to watch) ?
0.01 % ?
How on earth do golfing championship events benefit the other 99.99% of HK residents who certainly do need basic housing and more public parks?
Anyway, Shenzhen's championship courses are just across the border. Mission Hills is the world's biggest golf course and has 12 x 18 hole courses !
There are many HK people who are forced to live in Shenzhen because housing there is cheaper than in HK, and they have to commute every day the hard way .
I seriously do think that it would be much more more fair to let these HK residents live in HK and force the handful of golfers to commute to SZ.
Don't you agree ?
If you read my earlier comment closely you'll see that I wasn't objecting to the use of the Fanling golf course on the basis of its use by the public. My point was that it is the only championship course in the self-styled "Asia's World City". There may be arguments for using one of the other courses to build much needed housing, but to concrete over the premier facility in the SAR would be folly.
My point about Happy Valley was that the infield is public, open space, enjoyed by local residents on a daily basis and used extensively by schools. As such it is ridiculous for Albert to describe it as a colonial relic.
Sorry but I don't get it. Do we need a golf championship to be a world city? Is that a requisite to be taken seriously or something? I'd say that is nonsense.
John Adams
I agree - that statement by rsallen is total nonsense.
Since when has hosting a golf championship been a criteria to call ourselves a "world city" ?
BTW: That title "world city" was one which we coined ourselves in HK - or rather some govt PR nerd coined. If giving up land rented to a private , exclusive golf club ( 3 x 18-hole courses no less !) at $1/ year in order to build decent affordable housing for our native population means we can no longer call ourselves a "world city", I vote to give back the land to the people and give up the moniker.
John Adams
Good proposal (and/or make it a public park)
What do you gain by playing the wealth card? Public sympathy is surely not on the side of HKGC members, who probably aren't listening to you anyway. Judge the policies by their cost/benefit tradeoff and your argument on Fanling looks like it still holds. When you tar the Jockey Club and its facilities with the same brush I find that it rings hollow. Perhaps you would prefer the privilege structure available to you just north of the Shenzhen River because it's not colonial?
"The Fanling golf club and Happy Valley racecourse are nothing but colonial-era remnants of a time when public resources were enjoyed by a privileged few. "
Oh dear, oh dear. What absolute nonsense! Almost all of the infield of the Happy Valley racecourse is open to the public and is used by ordinary residents of Hong Kong on every day of the week as recreational open space.
"Hong Kong isn't short of golf courses."
There's only one course which is capable of hosting championship events, and that is Fanling. But Albert has decided that it is the one that should be concreted over. What absolute idiocy.
If Albert is going to sound off, he should do a little basic research first.
Your comments here are complete nonsense. You clearly haven't got e faintest idea what you're talking about. Do some research befor you post your idiotic nonsense.
I agree.

Everybody is entitled to their hobbies and sports, but golf is a sport that has a very, very skewed dedicated-space-to-participants ratio. In a place like Hong Kong that is so short on space (even if it is to some degree an artificial, government-created shortage), the Fanling golf course is a rather odd choice of land use.

I have visited the course once as a spectator, and sure, it is a beautiful, green space. Lovely really. But so is the Sai Kung Country Park (much more lovely actually). Apart from the odd UBS-sponsored tournament, this course is reserved to the couple of hundred (thousands perhaps?) golf club members. No matter how lovely I might find it, I am not allowed to have a Sunday afternoon stroll there. So no, I won't miss it when it's gone.

Indeed, with a number of other courses around the territory and plenty more north of the border, golf enthusiasts will still have plenty of opportunities to take a swing at their little white balls. No pun intended of course.

If we want to continue to grow as a city (apparently we do...?), and given the space constraints we have, choices have to be made. And while I think that we should also do more about urban renewal (ie, using existing urban areas in a better way) and land reclamation, the Fanling golf course is one of the most obvious choices when looking for suitable new residential zones.


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