Paul Chan should revive his plan for homes on golf club site

Albert Cheng says taking on the privileged few, rather than suggesting building flats in country parks, would help regain public trust

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 September, 2013, 2:42am

A long-term housing strategy consultation document released recently proposed building 470,000 units over the next 10 years. Sixty per cent would be public housing flats; the remainder private.

And because the document only focused on projected demand, without providing solutions to tackle the land supply problem, very few people will take the proposal seriously, given that the administration has been using land shortages as an excuse for not meeting demand.

Embattled development minister Paul Chan Mo-po tried to prove his worth, despite being plagued by a series of scandals, by floating the ridiculous idea of building flats in country parks to boost land supply and solve our acute shortage.

These plots of land have all the necessary infrastructure and services in place

His absurd proposal immediately drew criticism from across the community. And, despite being development secretary, Chan seems ignorant of the facts. He claimed 70 per cent of Hong Kong has been designated as country parks - in fact it's only 40 per cent.

It's no wonder the latest popularity survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong shows he has the lowest approval rating, again, of any government minister - down to just 14 per cent.

As development secretary, Chan is duty bound to seek out available land. But, since assuming office, he has done nothing but chalk up a series of mistakes and scandals. He obviously knows little about the perennial land problem in Hong Kong, judging from his country park proposal. He is even eyeing People's Liberation Army sites in Hong Kong to ease land shortages.

These two categories of land are unquestionably no-go zones. Chan has again exposed his ignorance. The public cannot be fooled, as shown by the latest approval ratings.

Chan has said that, in order to make the best use of land, the government could and would recover any land for housing or redevelopment, whether it was used for a private golf course, farmland, or even land zoned for military use by the PLA.

He suggested taking back the Fanling golf club site for redevelopment, but withdrew the proposal after heated criticism from the rich and powerful members of the club. In fact, that was one very feasible option, which should have been further explored by the government. Not only would it have immediately eased our land shortage, it would also have placated rural residents fighting against the government's development proposal for the northeastern New Territories.

The golf club takes up 170 hectares of land, which is half the proposed development area of the northeastern New Territories. Together with the nearby Hong Kong Jockey Club's Beas River Country Club and Fanling Lodge, the chief executive's summer residence, the whole lot could supply a total of 200 hectares, enough land to build residential units - both public and private - to accommodate several hundred thousand people.

Most importantly, these plots of land already have all the necessary infrastructure and services in place. So, once approved, the sites could be developed in a relatively short period of time.

Objections to the proposal, when all was said and done, were merely excuses to protect the interests of a privileged few. Some even said that Hong Kong, as a metropolitan city, needs such venues to match its international status and serve high-calibre international businesspeople and tycoons.

In fact, these critics have the wrong idea. Repossessing the site for redevelopment doesn't have to mean that buildings of historical value are demolished to make way for housing. The old and the new can co-exist.

With good planning, the historic buildings could be preserved while the adjacent land could be optimised to provide different types of housing.

It's also a lame excuse to say the golf club has commercial value. With more and more international investors and high-calibre businesspeople seeking investment opportunities over the border, more are choosing to play golf on the mainland, rather than here.

And also, it doesn't have to mean doing away with the golf club altogether; it, and the Beas River Country Club, could be relocated to the island of Kau Sai Chau - already home to a public golf course - where a bigger and better club could be built.

Chan has been plagued by scandals since taking office. From the subdivided flats controversy, to claims of drink driving, to allegations of land hoarding and tax evasion - he hasn't come up with a single convincing argument to win back public trust.

The least he can do now is look again at the proposal to develop the area around the Fanling golf club, which would immediately ease our dire housing needs.

Actions speak louder than words. Now is the time for Chan to prove his worth to the people of Hong Kong.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.