Hong Kong land task force bunkered over club leases
Proposal to build homes at Fanling golf course has upset its powerful and well-connected members and raised doubts over policy relating to renewals
Lau Kong-wah didn’t begin his political career as a government bureaucrat but the home affairs secretary has bested many of his colleagues by mastering the fine art of “kicking the can down the road”.
Under the universal but unspoken motto – “it won’t be my problem” – of consummate bureaucrats everywhere, Lau has made it look like his bureau is doing something serious about the public land subsidy of exclusive private clubs. But if and when the policy he now proposes kicks in, he will have been long gone.
The latest idea from his bureau is that private sports clubs up for lease renewal will be asked to pay a premium at one-third of the market value instead of the current token amounts. Sounds impressive?
But since exclusive clubs routinely charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions for memberships, most only have to admit some more rich members. In any case, the new proposed plan would apply to contract renewal only after 2027.
Craigengower Cricket Club in Happy Valley, for example, charges HK$450,000 for an individual membership and HK$800,000 for a corporate one.
The Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the 170-hectare Fanling golf course now being considered, though highly unlikely, for housing, charges a whopping HK$16 million for a corporate membership.
The whole furore over the Fanling golf course was triggered by a government task force on land supply. Naughty, naughty. Didn’t the task force realise it would cause the government endless problems with its proposal.
It’s not that it doesn’t have merits, but it has upset many of its powerful and well-connected members.
The government has steered the whole debate as if to kill it. The club’s land is considered part of the overall government policy on private sports clubs when it should have been examined separately, as a special case, all along.
Private clubs with public land leases take up 66 sites totalling about 400 hectares, but the Fanling course alone takes up 170 hectares. That is the problem: why does a single club take up such a disproportionate amount of public space?
But this question was never allowed to be raised. The club will most likely get another 15 years when it renews its leases in 2020. It will be a different world in 2035.
No doubt the task force members must now realise the error of their ways.