Is Fanling golf club getting ‘picked on’ as Hong Kong debates ways to ease housing shortage?
Commercial sector lawmaker describes backers of proposal to develop 170-hectare course in New Territories as carrying out ‘irrational’ debate
Supporters of a proposal to develop a 170-hectare Fanling golf course to ease Hong Kong’s housing shortage are “picking on” the exclusive club, a member who is also an adviser to the city’s leader has said.
Describing the ongoing land debate as “irrational” and “unbalanced,” executive councillor and Legislative Council member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung on Saturday added: “In recent times, many people have picked on the golf course. If you can pick on one option, you can do that to another. This is not rational.”
Lam is the latest member of the local political and business elite to weigh in on the controversial proposal for the course.
There have long been calls for Fanling to be redeveloped and the government’s Task Force on Land Supply listed it as one of the four fastest ways to combat the city’s severe land shortage.
Altogether, the task force released 18 options for consideration when a public engagement exercise began last month, but the golf course suggestion has been the most hotly-debated.
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Protesters have held demonstrations at the gates of the course run by the Hong Kong Golf Club, demanding that officials take land back after what they called an undue concession to the rich. Under a lease granted in 1999 and due to expire in 2020, the club only pays a land premium of HK$1,000 (US$127) at a rental amount significantly below market rate.
Last week actor Billy Lau Nam-kwong helped launch the Hong Kong Alliance of Golfers, which was seen as a move to fight back against development plans. The alliance’s vice-convenor Kenneth Lau said golf was a sport for everyone, not just the rich, and called for the public and the government to not be “misled” into making an irreversible decision.
Lam, the managing director of toy manufacturer Forward Winsome Industries, on a radio programe on Saturday described the ongoing land debate as “irrational” and “unbalanced”.
He is one of 2,600 members of the Hong Kong Golf Club, along with fellow Exco member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who also voiced opposition to using the golf course for housing development.
The lawmaker from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong also dished out criticism of the task force.
“They have given it an incorrect name,” Lam said of the panel. “It should have been a task force for housing supply.”
He also questioned if its work would help to expand the local housing supply, and hinted that its members might not have thoroughly studied the issue before launching the public consultation.
“Have they considered the cultural, historical and environmental backgrounds of each option? I don’t think they have done enough,” Lam said, alluding to the club’s history dating back to the 19th century.
He argued that some “new concepts” could have led the public to “pick on” the business sector and property developers, but he did not elaborate.
To ease housing difficulties in Hong Kong, Lam suggested the government increase the plot ratio of old public rental housing estates.
Older public housing buildings are not built as high, he explained, and they could be rebuilt with more flats in the same space.
Redeveloping Wah Fu Estate in Southern District, for example, could increase the number of flats from 9,200 to more than 21,000.
To relocate existing tenants of old public rental housing estates, officials should first build new buildings in the same district, Lam added.