Hong Kong housing

Why is Hong Kong Golf Club more precious than our country parks in the search for housing land?

Paul Stapleton says it’s only fair that the sprawling hectares of the Fanling club for the city’s elite be considered for housing, when even country parks are not spared

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 6:32pm

When I bought my flat here in Hong Kong a few years ago, one feature that attracted me was its unobstructed view of the mountains. Further, with a highway squeezed between the closest mountain and my building, I felt sure that the beautiful view would remain, without any possibility of a housing estate going up to destroy it.

I was wrong. A housing estate will be built after all.

Also nearby is a sewage plant that will soon be relocated. The insides of an adjacent mountain are presently being blasted out in order to rehouse the plant, to free up land for housing.

Such are the lengths that our government will extend itself in order to solve our housing crisis. Next up are our country parks, whose peripheries are now being targeted for development. It seems that no land is sacred.

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Hardly. There is one rather large chunk of land owned by the government that is hallowed ground. I speak of the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, which sits on 170 hectares of land. That’s the same acreage as several Victoria Parks.

Decisions about land usage are always difficult. The most basic of questions comes down to this: what is a reasonable way to satisfy the basic living needs of people who live with the most unaffordable real estate on the planet?

The Hong Kong Golf Club has a couple of thousand affluent members who enjoy their pastime at the largesse of seven million others. Although members of the public are allowed to book a tee-off time, one wonders how many can really afford to spend several thousand dollars on the pleasure. And those who can afford it need to have verified their skills by arriving with a certified handicap. Therefore, although “open to the public” may have an inclusive ring about it, the club is close to being “for members only”.

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Meanwhile, a huge number of Hong Kong people live in substandard housing, or struggle to pay their mortgages because of the high cost of land.

It is certainly true that even if some or all of the club’s four courses were given over to housing, the problem would not be solved. However, when the government begins contemplating slicing chunks off our country parks while ignoring the low-hanging fruit of their own land at a golf course, the imbalance in its decision-making becomes absurd.

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Like many of us, I am about to make a sacrifice for the greater good. In a few years, I will be staring at the nearby windows of a housing estate instead of the greenery of a mountainside. In the grand scheme of things, this is not so life-shattering. Is it not about time that our government forced the elite to make a small sacrifice to their own lifestyle, too?

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong