Exclusive HK golf course to lose land to public housing

Golfers at Hong Kong's exclusive Fanling golf course tee off to views of construction as lawmakers seek to increase housing supply in the densely populated city. The government will take back 32ha of land, nearly a fifth, from the golf course as earl
Golfers at Hong Kong's exclusive Fanling golf course tee off to views of construction as lawmakers seek to increase housing supply in the densely populated city. The government will take back 32ha of land, nearly a fifth, from the golf course as early as 2023 to build homes, of which the bulk will be public housing.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam now has the muscle to push through contentious proposals that would boost housing supply, including taking back part of an iconic golf course and a massive land reclamation off Lantau island.

This comes after lawmakers in the Executive Council "fully endorsed" eight suggestions put up by a government-appointed land supply task force to look into ways to ease the city's housing crunch, which has made it the world's least affordable property market.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong said at a press briefing yesterday afternoon that the government would push through with all eight suggestions of the task force.

The announcement comes nearly two months after the task force submitted its report to the government, in which it suggested ways to generate some 3,000ha of land for development.

Describing this as "not an easy decision", Mr Wong said the government would take back 32ha of the exclusive 172ha Fanling golf course, home to the Hong Kong Golf Club, to build homes, of which the bulk would be public housing.

To ease the transition, Mr Wong said the government would take the land back three years after the current lease ends in August 2020.

Construction could begin as early as 2024.

NO PAINLESS SOLUTION

The decision of the CE (Chief Executive Lam) in the council reflects a very careful balance of the needs of the community in the short to medium term for more housing, in particular public housing, and also the contributions of Fanling golf course to golf development in Hong Kong and also to its uniqueness in terms of ecological value, historical value... So that's a balancing act and I hope the community can understand that.

SECRETARY FOR DEVELOPMENT MICHAEL WONG

The remaining 140ha of the golf course would remain untouched and the lease would be extended until mid-2027.

The development bureau would conduct a detailed study in the later half of the year to look into the number of units that could be built, the development timeline and the amount of funding needed.

The study, to wrap up in the first half of 2021, would also explore the environmental and ecological impact of developing this land.

The proposal to take back part of the golf course has had golfers fuming as they said it would hinder deal-making since many bankers and businessmen play the sport.

Said Mr Wong: "As the chairman of the task force said, there's no painless solution.

"The decision of the CE (Chief Executive Lam) in the council reflects a very careful balance of the needs of the community in the short to medium term for more housing, in particular public housing, and also the contributions of Fanling golf course to golf development in Hong Kong, and also to its uniqueness in terms of ecological value, historical value...

"So that's a balancing act and I hope the community can understand that."

The government would also ask the Housing Society to end an ongoing study into building homes around country parks - an idea pitched by the previous administration.

It would also start feasibility studies on converting brown field sites and a land reclamation project east of Lantau island.

In October last year, Mrs Lam pitched a plan in her policy address to reclaim 1,700ha of land to build man-made islands off Lantau, known as the Lantau Tomorrow Vision.

The idea, reported to carry a price tag of at least HK$500 billion (S$87 billion), was met with waves of criticism from environmentalists and opposition lawmakers, who slammed it for the exorbitant cost and potential damage to marine life.

Under the task force's proposal, the artificial islands near Kau Yi Chau would provide sizeable pieces of land.

"That's the vision. That hasn't changed yet," said Mr Wong.

He added: "We will focus our efforts on the 1,000ha of land to be reclaimed around Kau Yi Chau. With regards to the 700ha of land around Hei Ling Chau, at the moment, there's no timetable."

Both Kau Yi Chau and Hei Ling Chau are sparsely inhabited islands.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2019, with the headline 'Exclusive HK golf course to lose land to public housing'. Print Edition | Subscribe