15-year club leases may face court challenge

Lawmakers demand closer scrutiny of private group's management of sites, with Democrats threatening to seek a judicial review

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 4:06am

The Democrats might seek a judicial review of the government's decision to extend the leases of scores of private clubs for a further 15 years.

A Legislative Council panel also decided to demand that the administration set up a way to monitor the clubs.

Lawmakers want more checks and balances after reaching a deadlock with the government over the handling of private clubs.

They have criticised the practice of giving clubs long leases amid a land shortage.

But the Home Affairs Bureau maintains that the lease renewals should come before any review of their operations.

Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai yesterday suggested the government grant shorter land leases while conducting such reviews.

Secretary of Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said the leases included a condition giving the government the right to take back the land any time within the 15 years by giving the clubs a year's notice.

He also promised a review, but only after the leases had been renewed.

Wu countered: "This reflects that the government has made the [renewal] decision in a rush."

He said there were insufficient grounds for the bureau to offer 15-year leases. The Democrats were considering their options before deciding if they should take the case to court, he told the Legco panel on home affairs.

As of June, seven out of 69 club leases have been renewed in an exercise that has been going on for a few years.

A further 47 leases are likely to pass the test.

The government has already approved their proposals to open up their facilities more extensively to the public, a prerequisite for renewing the leases.

Panel members unanimously backed a motion by Ann Chiang Lai-wan, asking the government to monitor such renewals and ensure the clubs offer their facilities to non-members for longer periods of time.

In the past month, the bureau has announced new requirements to give the public more access to club facilities, in return for lease extensions.

Among other conditions, it requires clubs to handle requests from non-members directly instead of going through government bodies, and to introduce cheaper junior memberships.

A lease can be cancelled if the conditions are breached, though lawmakers doubt the government would go that far for minor violations.

Instead, the government should have a system to deal with violations, the legislators said. It also should monitor how often outsiders used the facilities to determine if the clubs had made enough effort to promote their use.