Talk of turning Hong Kong golf course into housing dominates city’s first public forum on land supply
Protests and scuffles mar event meant to gauge preferred ways to plug city’s shortage of 1,200 hectares for next 30 years
The controversial issue of whether to develop a Hong Kong golf course for housing dominated the first public forum held by the task force on land supply on Saturday, with staff and consultants for the sports ground speaking up.
About 150 people took part in the discussion held in Happy Valley, which was marred by protests and scuffles. Some activists were carried out of Leighton Hill Community Hall, while others ripped up consultation documents to show their dismay with what they called a “fake” engagement exercise with the public.
The five-month consultation, which started in April, gauges views on the preferred ways to boost land supply in Hong Kong to plug a shortage of 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) as the city confronts housing and economic demands for the next 30 years.
Participants at Saturday’s event included activists, district councillors and concern group representatives.
Much of the discussion centred on whether the 170-hectare Fanling golf course – one of the 18 options put forward by the government-appointed task force for the consultation – should be used for housing.
Of the 42 people that spoke, six were affiliated with the Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the century-old facility.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings that the golf course can only be used by its 2,000 members, but it is open to the public for use while many international players come here for competitions too,” said a man who identified himself as a Fanling course staff member.
“I hope everyone will not be so rash to make a decision in taking away the golf course,” he added. “Once it’s gone, how long would it take to build another one? Even if you don’t use it, maybe our next generation could use it.”
Two other long-time staff members also spoke up, while three people identifying themselves as consultants hired by the club said there were challenges in developing the facility.
These included how to deal with the 30,000 trees and three historical buildings on site. In addition, the area holds 150 ancestral graves or urns, with some dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Other constraints include doubts that the surrounding transport, sewage and drainage infrastructure could support an influx of people if the site were used to build housing within five to 10 years’ time.
An earlier government consultancy report said there were two options for Fanling: either developing the 32-hectare eastern course, identified as the Old Course, to provide 4,600 flats, or developing all three courses for 13,000 flats.
Among those who opposed it, many said taking back the golf course for housing would be an act of social justice to ensure the site was not just catering to the city’s wealthy.
One participant at the forum said she supported developing all three courses.
“When Hong Kong is facing such a land shortage, we need to make sacrifices. Is the golf course really for the majority of Hong Kong residents? It’s not even open to the public on weekends or public holidays,” said Anna Wong, a woman who identified herself as a middle-class Hongkonger.
“When something as historic as Queen’s Pier can be taken down, why can’t a golf course with just several thousand members?”
Wong was referring to a pier demolished in 2007 to make way for reclamation in Central. It was built in 1925 and served as a ceremonial landing place for British colonial governors and members of the royal family on official visits.
During protests held prior to the forum and during the session, discussion fell mostly on other controversial topics such as developing country parks and reclamation. Protesters urged the government to reclaim land from developers instead of forming private-public partnerships to build housing, which could risk favouring large corporations. Others called on authorities to control the influx of immigrants in tandem with expanding land supply.
Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said there was no need to worry about any attempts by interest groups to dominate the public discussion.
“Even if so many consultants suggest that there are technical and planning challenges, this will not influence what members think about this option,” he explained. “The task force does not hold any stance towards individual options.”
“The task force is here to reflect what the public thinks.”
Wong said the body would “critically evaluate” both quantitative and qualitative comments to include in its final report from all the forums, activities and surveys conducted during the consultation period, which ends in September.