Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po says a golf course in Fanling, which activists singled out as an alternative location for a new town project, might be taken back for redevelopment.
His comment is seen as a move to pour oil on troubled waters, as some lawmakers from the pan-democratic camp joined the chorus of opposition to the HK$120 billion dual-town project unveiled on Thursday.
Chan was referring to the 170-hectare golf course run by the Hong Kong Golf Club, which villagers say is a better choice for development than their homes. They threatened to occupy the golf course - which is more than half the size of the 333-hectare dual-town project - if the government did not scrap the blueprint.
When asked by a TVB reporter in an interview yesterday whether the government would listen to the people and develop the golf course, Chan gave this reply: "The golf course has contributed to sports development in Hong Kong. But times have changed. Is there room for review [of the land use]? I agree there is."
He pointed to an ongoing review by his bureau with the Home Affairs Bureau into dozens of sites under private recreational leases, where clubs were allowed to lease land with nominal rent such as HK$1,000 a year. The Development Bureau said it would take back some of the sites when the leases expired. The lease of the golf course will expire in 2020.
The bureau confirmed last night that the golf course would be included in the study for a new town in the northern New Territories, which will start next year.
Chan said the site would not fit into the schedule of the North East New Development Areas, which will see the first batch of housing ready in 2022. Given its size, it would take several years to study many aspects of the site, including pollution, water supply and electricity, and to provide infrastructure. Public consultation would also be needed, he added.
The government has said it would explore another potential new town proposal for the northern New Territories to link Ping Che-Ta Kwu Ling with land released from the closed border area, after mooting the dual towns Fanling North and Kwu Tung North in the northeast.
Meanwhile, the pan-democratic camp was unimpressed by changes the government has made to the plan for the two new towns, despite a proposal for more subsidised public flats.
Critics are concerned mainly with a decision to let developers build private flats on their own land after the original plan, introduced last year, drew threats of court action from some firms.
Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah questioned the administration's rationale. "[The new plan] is hard to accept," he said. "The government is surrendering to … and trying to dodge opposition from developers."
Developers had threatened a judicial review of the initial plan, under which the government would have resumed - and auctioned - all the land the companies had spent years acquiring.
In the latest scheme, only private sites zoned for infrastructure, community facilities and public housing will be resumed.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai favoured converting part of the golf course into housing. "At least you can [make people feel] you are not offering favours or thinking only about the interests of a few," Wu said.