Government deserves red card for Kitchee land grab
Officials have backed away from sorting out the Wang Chau project mess, and instead taken the easy option of reclaiming land designated for sports
Perhaps if the Kitchee Sports Club had illegally occupied the 15,000 square metres of land in Sha Tin, the government might have backed down. That seems to be how officials behave when it comes to dealing with bullies and thugs who illegally take over public land in the New Territories. Just look at the sorry saga of Wang Chau.
As it is, the soccer club went by the book, invested HK$84 million and built a state-of-the-art training facility that is also open to the public. It opened last year but it could be gone soon, thanks to a plan by the government to redevelop the site for public housing.
Granted, Kitchee bosses are not entirely blameless. They obtained a five-year lease in 2012, so they knew it would end next year. Yet, they assumed it would be extended, at least long enough to make the investment, mostly funded by the Jockey Club, worthwhile. There is even a plan to put in another
HK$20 million to expand on-site facilities at the training centre.
In doing so, they apparently had the support of the then home affairs secretary, Tsang Tak-sing. It’s doubtful the Jockey Club would have committed HK$63 million in donation if it thought the centre would be here today and gone tomorrow.
Perhaps Kitchee did have informal assurances from some officials that the centre would be allowed to operate beyond the lease’s expiry next year.
The problem is, in its desperate search to find land to fill its ambitious housing supply goals, the government is happy to turn over sites designated for leisure, recreation and sports for redevelopment. The Kitchee site is not the first and will not be the last. In going after such sites, the government can always count on a subservient Town Planning Board to rezone them according to its development and housing agenda.
The problem with public bodies like the board is that if they were really independent and credible, they might be entrusted to balance the public interest – in this case, the community’s needs for more public housing and sports development. Alas!
Here’s an idea. The government has scaled down the Wang Chau project from building 17,000 public housing units to 4,000. How about adding back 1,400 units planned for the Kitchee site to the scaled-down project while granting the sports centre a long lease?