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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong golf alliance says using Fanling course for land supply will affect city’s business image, but lawmaker slams claim as ‘clownish’

  • Spokesman for group expresses fears authorities bending to public opinion over one of eight options unveiled by land supply task force
  • Lawmaker Andrew Wan dismisses comments, pointing out land is leased to golf club by government
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 11:29pm

Hong Kong would lose its status as an international financial centre where bankers and businesspeople mingle if authorities redeveloped part of a golf course for housing, a golfers’ alliance warned on Wednesday while a lawmaker slammed the claim as “clownish”.

The group’s comments on a radio programme followed a strong statement from the 129-year-old Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the Fanling golf course. The club posted newspaper ads claiming the recommendation by a government-appointed task force on land supply disregarded the site’s high ecological value.

Redeveloping 32 hectares of the 172-hectare course for housing is one of eight options cited by the Task Force on Land Supply in its long-awaited report on 18 measures put up for public consultation.

Expressing fears the government was bending to public opinion, Kenneth Lau Ka-lok, spokesman and deputy convenor of the Hong Kong Alliance of Golfers, said: “There are more than a dozen golf courses in Long Island because New York is an international financial centre. Bankers and analysts seem to love golfing. They often discuss business during a four-hour session. Some banks even interview jobseekers over golf.”

Speaking on the same programme, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin called the comments “clownish”.

Is there middle ground in Fanling golf course debate amid housing crisis?

“Hongkongers often say we have to fit the appetite to the dishes,” Wan said. “Our city is so small and our hunger for land supply is so severe – not only for housing, but also for public facilities such as hospitals and elderly care centres.

“I find it rather clownish to hear that [the golf course should not be redeveloped because] it will affect the businesses of tycoons.”

Wan pointed out that the government was not forcing the golf club out but merely taking back land it owned when the club’s lease expired in 2020. He added that the city had rich experience preserving ecologically and historically valuable areas.

“Everyone in Hong Kong must now contribute [to easing the housing crunch]. The golf course has been using government land for over a century. So who owes who?”

I find it rather clownish to hear that [the golf course should not be redeveloped because] it will affect the businesses of tycoons
Andrew Wan, lawmaker

On Monday, the Hong Kong Golf Club expressed its “deep disappointment” with recommendations unveiled by the task force, which was appointed to look into the city’s land needs to plug a predicted shortfall of 1,200 hectares over the next 30 years.

Among the suggestions strongly backed by public opinion after a five-month consultation was the option of redeveloping a section of the Fanling golf course when the club’s lease expires.

The report cited 61 per cent public support for repurposing private recreational sites, adding that the remaining 140 hectares at the Fanling course could still support sports development.

The whole course comprises three 18-hole sections, including the Old Course, the Eden Course and the New Course. The 32 hectares of land recommended to be redeveloped is occupied by eight holes in the Old Course and a car park.

Public opinion ‘misrepresented’ by Hong Kong land supply task force

Alliance spokesman Kenneth Lau said on Wednesday that the plans would “definitely affect businesses” in the city. The alliance was founded in February last year – two months before the launch of the public consultation led by the task force. It is convened by actor Billy Lau Nam-kwong and comprises players, coaches and industry workers.

Kenneth Lau insisted he was not exaggerating the role of the golf course. “When a company is choosing a city to set up its Asia headquarters, when a senior executive is choosing a city in Asia to relocate, they will consider these factors, ranging from education quality, rule of law to sports facilities.

“Singapore and Shanghai are increasingly chosen because they can provide all these.”

I’m not saying businessmen cannot reach deals without the course. But it provides them with a good platform
Kenneth Lau, Hong Kong Alliance of Golfers

He added: “Without such facilities, companies and executives won’t come. Therefore Hong Kong has been losing. I’m not saying businessmen cannot reach deals without the golf course. But it provides them with a good platform.”

While Lau suggested the government should prioritise redevelopment of brownfield sites – damaged agricultural land – and unused rural land, Wan said those choices did not mean the golf course should be untouched.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he believed partially developing the course could increase housing supply in a short time, without adding much local traffic or damaging valuable trees or ancient tombs there.

“I cannot see any link between playing golf and international companies coming to Hong Kong,” he said, noting he was an avid golfer himself.

He said losing a small part of the course would not affect international events, while it could be a gesture by the government to show it did not only protect the interests of a small number of people.

“It will be a win-win situation,” Tien said.

But he said he did not support developing the whole course because of traffic and conservation concerns.

It is uncertain if Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will endorse all recommendations from the task force. Findings of another public consultation on policy to renew leases of private recreational sites will also affect the fate of the golf course.

In a statement on Monday, Lam said she would study the task force’s recommendations and appeal for public support.

The Home Affairs Bureau, which is behind the policy consultation, is set to release its findings later this month or next. Wan said he was worried that the bureau would let the golf course off the hook.

The eight options put forth by the task force are expected to produce a total of 3,520 hectares – 2.7 times that of the government’s “grossly conservative” predicted shortfall of 1,200 hectares.