Put all options on table to boost land supply
Some of the ideas being discussed, including resumption of land leased to the Hong Kong Golf Club, may not be popular or even viable, yet we cannot take a piecemeal approach to providing affordable housing to all
There are no shortage of ideas on how to boost land supply to attain the government’s target of increasing the number of flats by 460,000 by 2027. An advisory group is sorting through the choices, which will be whittled down to 13 and put forward for public consultation in March.
There will be controversial options, including reclaiming a golf course, filling in reservoirs and developing the periphery of country parks. But no matter how far-fetched some may seem, each has to be given consideration to ensure a fundamental for the future of any city – that all residents have a place in which to live.
Many members of the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling probably have a different view. There has been talk for at least four years that their three courses and clubhouse, covering 170 hectares, should be all or partly given up for housing.
The latest study, carried out by the Planning Department, concluded that between 5,000 and 6,000 flats could be built if the original course opened in 1911 and a nearby car park were resumed for public use. The club is among our city’s most exclusive, charging millions in membership, while paying just HK$2.4 million in government rent in 2016-17. Its fairways and greens are open for public use, but for several thousand dollars a time and only to those with a certain level of golfing expertise.
The widening gap between rich and poor is bound to make a club that some of Hong Kong’s wealthiest belong to a target. But the courses also host the Hong Kong Open, a major tournament on the international golfing calendar, in addition to promoting and growing the game through player development, grass-roots initiatives and charity events. That enhances our city’s global standing and helps maintain balanced social diversity.
But there have to be trade-offs when land is in short supply. Market rental rates should be paid where appropriate. Such matters should be considered with the golf club’s lease coming up for renewal in 2020.
A piecemeal approach to land supply is no way to deal with a severe shortage of affordable housing. Authorities have to be transparent about what land is available, perhaps by drawing up a priority list laying out not just the low-hanging fruit like golf courses or other recreation clubs.
New development areas, brownfield sites, disused agricultural land, the holdings of property developers, the New Territories’ small-house policy, short-lease government land and the scores of abandoned schools have to be included, showing the area available and estimated number of flats that could potentially be built. Not all will be suitable for housing, but the options still have to be clearly laid out.