The push to develop part of a Fanling golf course for housing in Hong Kong gained momentum after indigenous villagers expressed support for the plan on Sunday, while a government adviser urged authorities not to hastily renew the golf club’s lease.
The news emerged after the Post reported that a technical study by the Planning Department found it was feasible to build 5,000 to 6,000 flats on part of the 170-hectare course, run by the Hong Kong Golf Club.
The recommended area comprises the Old Course – the oldest of three parts in the whole course – and the club’s car park, which are close to major infrastructure and existing public housing.
Wong Kwun, a member of the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply, said the Home Affairs Bureau, which holds the land, should not be in a rush to renew the club’s lease. The lease is to expire in August 2020.
It was previously reported that the bureau might renew the lease for another three years.
Wong said the government should instead let the public know all statistics and analyses on the potential of the plot to assess if the whole area, and not just the Old Course, should be developed.
“I’m worried that the government, under great public pressure, will just develop a bit of the golf course to fudge the issue,” Wong said.
The course is part of some 400 hectares of land across Hong Kong leased to private clubs at relatively low rents, triggering calls for the government to make better use of such sites. The rent of the Fanling golf course in 2016-2017 was HK$2.4 million.
The bureau is reviewing 67 private recreational leases involving these types of land.
Wong’s task force will meet in the next two weeks to discuss whether such land should be considered in solving the city’s housing issues.
Under current arrangements at the golf course, 800 registered indigenous villagers living nearby can use the Old Course for free daily after 3.30pm, but their usage rights cannot be transferred to the next generation.
Bowie Hau Chi-keung, chairman of the Sheung Shui District Rural Committee, said he would not oppose the development proposal as long as the government could reach a consensus with the club and other stakeholders.
“Indigenous villagers are not so selfish,” he said. “There are many other places to play golf.”
But Hau believed the government would need first to provide better infrastructure and health care before increasing the population in the area. There are many public and private housing estates nearby but only one hospital.
He said Fan Kam Road – a main thoroughfare in North District that runs past the Old Course – was already heavily congested.
He added that the nearby North District Hospital was also overloaded, with patients at emergency wards having to wait three to five hours before getting treatment.
Leung Fuk-yuen, chairman of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee, emphasised the importance of serving the greater good.
“Right now only a small number of indigenous villagers play there for free, but this is public land and there are many people who can’t afford homes. We need to sacrifice the interest of the few to achieve greater good.”
Actress turned professional golfer Olivia Cheng Man-nga also previously said losing the Fanling course “would not have a lot of impact” on elite players. She said she believed the club focused on its own interests and only allowed successful players to practise there.
But another task force member Lau Chun-kong, who is also president of the Institute of Surveyors, said it would be worth discussing the impact of losing the course, which had historic and scenic value, especially the Old Course, built in 1911.
He added that if the government took away the premises for private clubs, some might not be able to survive at all. He urged society to discuss whether these historic clubs still had value.