Hongkongers want homes, but they want their sport too
The Kitchee sports ground saga shows that the government still has to be mindful of public sentiment even as it tries to meet its housing goals
The government is leaving no stone unturned in its effort to boost land supply for housing. The latest step is to resume the site of a soccer training centre that cost HK$84 million to build and has been in use for only one year. While the commitment to housing is to be appreciated, the decision raises questions over land use coordination and the importance, or lack thereof, attached to the development of sport in the city.
This is not the first time sports facilities have been targeted. Shortly after housing was made a top policy priority in 2012, the government reportedly explored the feasibility of relocating the proposed sports stadium at Kai Tak. At issue this time is the training complex of Kitchee, one of Hong Kong’s top soccer clubs. Built with the Jockey Club’s financial backing, the 15,000 square metre site in Sha Tin has fuelled hope that the city’s soccer standards can reach new heights. Even though the land is leased on a short-term tenancy agreement, plans for expansion were already under way. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is understandably under pressure to make good on his election promise to boost housing supply. According to press reports, the centre and its adjacent land will be rezoned to build three public housing blocks and a school. Leung promised not to evict Kitchee until new premises had been found.
The government is said to be on track to meet its housing supply target in the short run. But according to a projection by the Housing Authority, public housing construction will drop after five years to an annual 11,400 units, which is only half of its target. The goal of 460,000 units in 10 years remains a challenge.
That housing should come before sports development is perhaps a view shared by many in society. Be that as it may, it can be argued that some facilities, such as golf courses and private recreation clubs, can also be flattened for development. While affordable housing is important, a liveable city is no less so. A piecemeal approach does little in terms of town planning and quality of living.
Our limited land supply and competing interests make trade-offs inevitable. But if the government is as committed to sports promotion as it claims, flattening a new, purpose-built training centre for housing development does not seem reasonable.
Despite winning the tournament at the East Asian Games in 2009, the level of soccer in Hong Kong still leaves much to be desired. The strong public reaction to the Kitchee saga underlines the people’s support for the development of sport. Officials need to understand public sentiment while working towards the housing goal.