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Hong Kong housing

Housing plan for part of Hong Kong Golf Club would showcase Carrie Lam’s commitment to the people

Paul Yip says the government has a golden opportunity to show its leadership and commitment to building more housing by developing the Old Course at the Fanling golf club

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 7:10pm

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and consistently ranks as the least affordable. Subdivided flats of about 100 sq ft for poor families have raised concerns about the well-being of our children, even as the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling features three 18-hole courses, with 170 hectares of land for about 2,600 members. Its total area is about nine times greater than Victoria Park.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor recently appealed for public understanding for her government, which has not been able to make more land available for public housing. However, there is no plan to make good use of the three 18-hole golf courses.

Perhaps we can make use of one of the courses for housing without affecting the leisure of golf club members. A recent Post report revealed that the club’s so-called Old Course by itself could provide 5,000 flats.

Of course that would not be enough to provide homes for the 300,000 on the public housing waiting list, but the government needs to demonstrate its leadership here and its ability to carry out the task to completion. It would be extremely disappointing, but hardly surprising if nothing happened, as the government is notoriously disorganised when coordinating among different bureaus.

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There have been a few counter-arguments claiming that keeping the golf course helps Hong Kong maintain its international status. However, the UBS Hong Kong Open usually takes place on the other two courses, the New Course and Eden Course.

The government has also subsidised the tournament, and the returns have been quite limited. The club has not been very open in making itself available for public use even though it uses government land for a small token rate and charges a fortune for membership.

The three courses in Fanling have been reserved for the leisure activities of the elite. Fanling has become an icon of social inequality, ineffective government and an inability to improve quality of life.

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When the leases on other private recreational clubs expire, this could provide ways to better use scarce resources for public benefit, rather than as a privilege for the few.

Hong Kong has enjoyed good economic development over the past two decades and our GDP growth rate is projected to be an impressive 3.7 per cent in 2017. Yet, many Hongkongers ar still unhappy. Why? One reason is that resources in the community have been misallocated and financial gains not fairly shared among all stakeholders. Enjoying a larger private living space seems unattainable in Hong Kong, so the least the government can do is improve the accessibility and availability of public space.

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On the other hand, it is good to see the government encouraging schools to share space for public use and this has been well received in the community. The measure can partly rectify the shortage of leisure and recreation grounds for the community. It is a matter of executive ability to work out an arrangement. This government is known to have a “can-do” spirit. The new government is said to have a “can do” spirit. We have been told enough times about the difficulties of creating more space. Now, instead, it is time to ask: “Why can’t it be done?”

Taking action with the golf course to provide more space for the community would be a showcase for Carrie Lam’s government to win the hearts and minds of the community. It would also demonstrate her ability and commitment to solve the housing problem for the people.

Paul Yip is chair professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong