Government again postpones discussions on Hong Kong golf course housing development plans
Agenda pushed back for second time this year, raising questions over internal conflict relating to controversial plan
Discussion on a controversial proposal to build housing on the site of a Hong Kong golf course has now been pushed back by the government twice, raising questions over whether officials have conflicting views on the matter.
The Task Force on Land Supply was supposed to mull over plans to build flats on the 170-hectare course in Fanling on Saturday, as part of discussions on using private recreational sites and military sites to curb the city’s housing shortage.
The items were absent from the meeting agenda for Saturday, according to members.
The agenda has already been pushed back once from January 16 to give the government more time to prepare papers for the discussion.
Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said he was disappointed with the delay, especially as the committee was already running behind schedule to meet a deadline of launching a public consultation in March.
“I personally suspect that the government is having to make some tough calls, especially on the issue of developing private recreational land. Perhaps the reason why the papers are not ready is because different bureaus are having to negotiate and agree on certain recommendations. There will have to be a consensus built between the bureaus before they can table the paper to our meeting,” Wong told the Post.
The government-appointed committee has been tasked with reviewing the pros and cons of 15 land supply initiatives, before they will be put forward for an extensive public engagement exercise in March.
The two initiatives – making use of private recreational sites, such as golf courses, and developing military sites – are the only remaining options that have yet to be touched upon.
Wong said he would put pressure on the government to have the paper ready “as soon as possible”.
Another committee member Simon Fung Shing-cheung also echoed Wong’s disappointment over the postponement.
“I hope the government would be bold enough to make a decision. There would be no winner but losers if the discussion is further delayed,” Fung said.
The Post previously reported that a Planning Department technical study found it feasible to build 5,000 to 6,000 flats on part of the Fanling course.
The recommended area comprises the Old Course – the oldest of three sections of the entire course – and the club’s car park. Both are located near major infrastructure and existing public housing.
The department falls under the Development Bureau.
However, it was previously reported that the Home Affairs Bureau, which is in charge of recreational sites, might renew the lease to the golf club when the contract expires in 2020 for another three years under a higher rent, and also require the club to designate more opening hours for the public. This led to speculation that the bureau did not have plans to develop the land.
News of the study set off a chain of reactions across the community.
The Post learned that four influential figures have lobbied or approached the panel to save the golf course from being developed, raising concerns over possible conflict of interests. One of which was former Democratic Party lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming who was hired by the Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the Fanling course, to lobby stakeholders.
The Post also found that at least two task force members are Hong Kong Golf Club members.
The golf club this week announced they would launch its first golf tournament for secondary school pupils in May among a number of other activities aimed at promoting golfing in the city.
It also propelled legendary South African professional golfer Gary Player to weigh in on the matter, urging government authorities to preserve the “Hong Kong landmark”.
The golf course is leased to the Hong Kong Golf Club until August 2020. The rent for 2016/17 was HK$2.4 million (US$307,000).
Fung said that the government would need to explain why the proposal would not be feasible if it decides to renew the golf course’s land lease. The golf club should also be informed in a timely manner if the government might take away part of its course too, he said.
The Development Bureau did not answer the Post’s inquiries on why the agenda was postponed for the second time, only saying that the government will put papers to the task force for consideration “as soon as they are ready”.
Task force members would instead discuss about issues on the public engagement exercise on Saturday.