Fairway ahead for golf course row

Elitism seems to have become such a taboo that everything associated with the word is disputable.

Mary Ma

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Elitism seems to have become such a taboo that everything associated with the word is disputable.

Don't think so?

In the United States, elites in Washington were overthrown in the 2016 presidential election. Here in Hong Kong, elites in legal circles are being slammed for questioning the decision to shift the China-SAR border to the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link.

Yet, among all things in Hong Kong, the internationally-renowned golf course in Fan Ling must be the elitist of all in image. Billed as one of the most expensive golf clubs, it's associated with tycoons and top executives who arguably shape our economy.

Therefore, it's only natural that when government officials keep crying for land to build more public housing, populists demand the 170-hectare golf course be used for housing to accommodate 350,000 people.

This is a case pitting the masses against the upper-class - the elites.

It's interesting that Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin has maintained the focus of his campaign on the Fan Ling golf course and not the vast, largely vacant military site in Kowloon Tong. Perhaps, he thinks the administration can readily deflect attacks on the People's Liberation Army sites, by referring them to the Basic Law that says the SAR government isn't responsible for national defense or foreign affairs.

The outcry over the Hong Kong Golf Club's three 18-hole courses in Fan Ling is a political bomb that has to be defused.

After more than three years of so-called thorough study, the Home Affairs Bureau will soon publish a report to sum up its review of private recreational leases - including the sprawling Fan Ling site.

But this won't be the final report, despite the time that has already lapsed. The report's publication will be followed by another period of public consultation and thereafter, understandably, a further period to study the consultation findings. According to media reports, leases due to expire soon will be extended by two to three years as an interim measure.

In other words, the review that began in 2014 won't be concluded anytime soon.

That may be too slow for normal civil service efficiency, but would be a smart timeframe for a political solution. The administration seems to dragging out the thorny issue. Otherwise, it would be hard to comprehend why the former Leung Chun-ying administration left the hot potato to its successor.

More than likely, the Hong Kong Golf Club will see its lease renewed after the extraordinarily lengthy review.

It's reported the Home Affairs Bureau would propose the golf club and other lessees be charged higher rents and asked to open up facilities a little more to the public. If that is so, officials are trying to bridge differences by hitting the middle ground.

Such a move may be conventional, but the upside is that it can take the pressure off the Task Force on Land Supply, so that the latter need not tackle the golf course issue immediately, but rather concentrate on other alternatives like farmland and brownfields when it releases its preliminary report in March.