Jockey Club fears for future of Kitchee site
After donating HK$63 million for the sports facility, boss says future leases in doubt
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has expressed “significant concern” over the government plan to take back a newly opened, club-funded soccer training centre in Sha Tin for housing development, adding it would review sponsoring similar projects in the future.
The club’s chief executive, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, told the Post they had funded the Kitchee soccer club’s training centre in Shek Mun, Sha Tin, because of the strong support expressed by government officials at the time.
The club donated HK$63 million to Kitchee in 2014 to build the HK$84 million facility on a site with a short-term lease that will expire in September next year. But, barely a year after it opened, the government now says it is keen to take the site back to build 1,400 public housing flats.
While Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged last Monday that the site would be left untouched until an alternative venue had been found, he stressed on Saturday that a short-term lease meant “the government has a long-term, permanent land use” plan for it.
Engelbrecht-Bresges said they would have to review future requests for capital investments, depending on the outcome of the development. “It is still a significant concern for us because we don’t know what the end of the process will be and we will really have to review how we handle decisions on short-term leases in the future,” he said.
He said the club had supported the project as “there was an indication from the Home Affairs [Bureau] that any likelihood of the lease not being continued was not high”.
“And given the significant support for soccer, we felt comfortable to make this decision. And it is not simply about Kitchee; when we decided to support this project, we insisted that around 30 per cent of the time this facility has to be for community use.
“It was not support just for one team but for football development in general,” he said.
Anxious coaches, parents and young athletes have been left with uncertainty over the future of the centre’s training programmes, while plans for a sport science centre may also be in limbo.
Kitchee last week urged the government to look for more suitable sites, saying “the future development of Hong Kong football will undoubtedly suffer a huge setback without the [centre]”.
Neither the Home Affairs Bureau nor the Chief Executive’s Office would comment yesterday.
The housing plan is expected to be discussed a Sha Tin distict council meeting next month.
Sha Tin district councillor Rick Hui Yui-yu wanted to see the training centre kept, saying the site was too small to contribute much to the housing supply.
District councillor Li Sai-hung also said re-zoning of the land - which is designated for “open space” use - could take long time.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung