Hong Kong housing

Celebrity golfers should stay out of Hong Kong housing issues

Paul Stapleton says top golfers ought to stick to sport and the Hong Kong government to common sense on the issue of whether the Fanling golf course should be sacrificed to alleviate Hong Kong’s housing crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 3:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 5:27pm

Somehow celebrities have come to hold a privileged position in society so that just by virtue of their brand, they often gain the spotlight on issues that go far beyond their expertise. Movie stars, whose expertise is in the area of pretending they are people who they are not while reciting lines in front of a camera, sometimes become spokespersons for certain causes, such as minority rights. They also frequently lend their names to companies, such as brands of coffee.

Against this backdrop, we witness the comments made by several celebrity golfers on whether parts of the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling should be converted to land for housing. As noted above, consulting celebrities on their opinions on issues outside their expertise has become commonplace and newsworthy. In this case, the expertise is the ability to strike a rather small, hard ball with a club with such impressive accuracy that it drops into a hole in a minimum of strokes. However, a large amount of land must first be cleared of trees and planted with grass to provide the playing field.

We learn that Spanish golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez asked in reference to building housing on the course at Fanling, “Why can’t they find land elsewhere to build their houses?” English golfer Ian Poulter added, “If it happened it would be tragic. Simply tragic.”

Tragic indeed. But these celebrity golfers, with little understanding of the local context have chosen the wrong tragedy. Unlike Rory McIlroy, who wisely declines comments on political issues, they waded into a local issue that they know little about. Surely a visit to a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po would give their notions of tragedy some perspective.

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Hong Kong is so desperately short of affordable housing that the government is proposing to blast out the insides of a mountain to rehouse a sewerage plant in Ma Liu Shui just to free up 28 hectares of land. The plan, coupled with the reclamation of another 60 hectares, would cost HK$30 billion. In the meantime, the golf course in Fanling sits on 170 hectares, several times the size of Victoria Park.

Unfortunately, while the precious opinions of celebrity golfers occupy space in the media in opposition to one small, sensible solution to our housing problem, our government’s Task Force on Land Supply has once again delayed a decision on whether the course should be ploughed under for housing, saying they need more time for discussion. So while property prices hit yet another record high, and a significant percentage of our population have to share toilets and kitchens among several families, it appears that the decision is not straightforward.

In my opinion, the government just scored a triple bogey.

Paul Stapleton comments on local social and environmental issues