Eagle or bogey on housing policy: building on golf courses

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Once again, Hong Kong housing planners are casting covetous eyes on the wide open spaces of the city’s golf courses. 

Specifically, the 170-hectare golf course in Fanling could be used to build 5,000 new Hong Kong flats, according to a new government study.

An eastern part of the golf course, which is currently being used as a car park and has a so-called ‘Old Course’, is only available to eligible local villagers living nearby.

“The result of the study suggested that it is technically feasible to redevelop that part of the land, but at the end of the day, it’s the Home Affairs Bureau which has the final say on the redevelopment policy,” said a government source, asking not to be identified.

The golf course is leased to the Hong Kong Golf Club until 2020, and is open to public for booking on weekdays only. Weekends and public holiday bookings are reserved for members.

Clubs and clubs

Hong Kong is home to several private recreation clubs that are rented by the government at zero or very cheap rates, some of which are sitting at the prime sites in the city, including the Hong Kong Football Club and Craigengower Cricket Club that are both located in Causeway Bay.

Low rents – some as low as HK$1,000 a year –  are justified by a requirement , articulated in their land leases, to allow school and youth organisations to use their facilities.

It is no secret that Hong Kong has long been in a shortage of land supply, and some critics have been saying it was time to release some private recreational sites for development.

“At a time when the government is looking high and low for land to build housing, even turning urban green areas and public recreational sites into residential sites, how can the bureau take special care of these private recreational sites?” said Roy Tam Hoi-pong, chief executive of environmental group Green Sense and a long-time supporter of developing the golf course. “Why should these exclusive, members-only sites be protected from urban planning?”

Tam said he hopes the government would consider building affordable, subsidized housing on the golf course, rather than just selling the site to private developers to build yet more expensive apartments.

It was previously reported that the bureau might renew the lease of the golf course for another three years at higher rents, and insert a clause to require the club to designate more opening hours for the public. The idea seems to suggest that the bureau does not have plans to develop the land.

The government-appointed task force on land supply are meeting this week to discuss whether the golf club should be considered an option to ease the city’s housing shortage. However, reports came out on the weekend indicating that task force vice-chairman Greg Wong Chak-yan is a member of the golf club. While Wong has reportedly already made his membership known to the panel, the news has inevitably caused concerns regarding conflict of interest over the the proposed redevelopment plan.

On the other hand, a survey conducted by The Democratic Party revealed on Sunday claims that the “majority of people in Hong Kong” wants public housing to be built on the golf course land.

Perhaps not surprisingly, local golfers are against the plan of using their precious golf courses and driving ranges for building houses.

“There are already very few golf courses and driving ranges in Hong Kong now,” Choi-Hung Lee, a local golfer told Harbour Times. “I live on the Hong Kong island side. Until couple years ago, I often went to a driving range in Sai Wan Ho (located in the eastern part of the island). I was sad to see the government take it back and demolish it. A few years later another driving range in Tseung Kwan O was also gone. Now if I want to swing my clubs I will have to drive an hour or more to Saikung! You can’t just have housing and flats in a city, you need recreational facilities too. This is really unfair to us golfers.”

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