THE LEASE of the Fanling golf course (170-hectare) expires in 2020. The government intends to grant the Hong Kong Golf Club a temporary lease by way of a "hold-over arrangement" until conclusions are drawn of the land supply and lease policy review. The "hold-over arrangement" should be fair and reasonable lest it should give the impression of "dealing with the particular matter in a particular way" to give the rich and powerful preferential treatment. The Fanling golf course has long seemed a club for the rich inaccessible to most citizens. The resentment harboured by the general public reflects a deep-rooted conflict that has bred a miso-affluence mentality. Whether the Fanling golf course should be redeveloped for housing is an issue that we can discuss further. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that the golf course will genuinely be open to ordinary citizens. Furthermore, the way of leasing such land must be changed significantly.
After years of delay, the policy review of private recreational leases is finally about to produce initial results. The government is expected to submit its report to the Legislative Council and consult the public later this year. A detailed proposal will come out in the second half of this year at the earliest. There are altogether 67 private recreational land leases, of which four are to expire in four years. That of the Fanling golf course is one of them. For only HK$6.4 million a year in rent and rates, the Hong Kong Golf Club has rented for the use of its 2,600 and more members the piece of land nine times as large as Victoria Park. In theory, ordinary citizens may enter the course to "play a round or two" on ordinary days, but the booking charges are by no means cheap. The exceptionally high price of golf club membership gives people the impression that golfing in Fanling is an exclusive privilege of the rich and powerful.
The rich-poor gap continues to widen in Hong Kong, and the Fanling golf course has become a symbol of social unfairness. It is the expectation of the public that the government will grab the chance to change the terms of leasing the site or even to take back the land for other uses. The public opinion is so clear that the government cannot possibly turn a deaf ear to it. It must not just renew the 21-year lease with all the clauses unchanged.
We gather that, as the review has yet to end, the government is inclined to deal with the four leases which are about to expire by way of "hold-over arrangements" so that the lessees may continue to use the pieces of land in question for two or three years. But in the past examples of "hold-over arrangements", the leases were usually extended for only six months to one year. The government has suddenly used a new yardstick so that the Fanling golf course will continue to operate until at least 2022 to 2023. The strange move has aroused doubts that the government is determined to solve the problem.
In fact there are many ways to resolve the disputes surrounding the Fanling golf course. For example, the government may consider having a significant area of the site converted into a park open to the public. A well planned park may become a major landmark of a world city. The Central Park of New York is an example. With proper planning, the Fanling site can theoretically become a "new green landmark" that is a golf course for competition and a park.
Should the Fanling golf course be used for public housing? We still have to wait for the opinions of the Task Force on Land Supply. However, regardless of its conclusions, now that the Fanling lease is soon to expire and the policy review of private recreational leases is about to materialise, the government should indeed grab the opportunity to put things to rights. It should demand that the lessee truly opens its facilities to the public. It should also reduce the life of the lease.