A Hong Kong environmental advisory body has defended its decision to ask the government for more information before it can approve a report related to a public housing project at Fanling golf course.

Fanling golf course
Fanling Golf Course. Photo: Supplied.

The Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) failed to reach a consensus on whether to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for plans to build public housing on the golf course last Friday, following two meetings this month totalling more than 20 hours.

The government has been asked to conduct more ecological assessments, including the impact the scheme might have on birds and moths, which will likely push back discussions about the project by at least seven months.

Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme on Monday, ACE chair Stanley Wong was asked whether the decision would slow construction of public housing.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai
Stanley Wong Yuen-fai (centre). File photo: Supplied.

“I don’t think that’s the case entirely. The seven extra months are largely for studying the impact on birds, because such a study needs to span both the rainy and dry seasons,” Wong said.

The original completion date for the proposed public housing project was 2029, Wong added. “I absolutely have reason to believe that during the course of submitting supplementary information, all the other planning can be conducted at the same time,” Wong said.

Wong said that the 2029 completion date should still be attainable, as long as an updated EIA could be approved in March or April next year.

‘Rare’ suspension

A non-profit group that studies land use, Liber Research Community, meanwhile, said that suspending the approval of an EIA was rather “rare.”

Founder and researcher Chan Kim-ching said on RTHK on Monday that usually the advisory council would endorse the report “with conditions,” even if it recognised the need for more information.

Chan Kim-ching
Chan Kim-ching.

The course at Fanling, which is leased from the government by the Hong Kong Golf Club, was established in 1911.

Chan criticised the government for extending the lease for part of the golf course to the recreational club in September 2020 until at least next August. “Had the government taken back the plot of land, the golf club would not be able to intervene that much. The controversy would not be as great as it is today,” Chan said.

Fanling golf course
Fanling golf course. Photo: Supplied.

“If the ecological value or the environmental value of the land was so great, it does not make sense for it to be used as a golf course, as they use a lot of water and have been called ‘toxic green’, meaning a lot of agrochemicals are used for their upkeep,” Chan said.

12,000 housing units

The plan to potentially develop the golf course at Fanling has stoked controversy since it was introduced in 2017, with groups supporting the plan and golfers who wished to preserve the golf course clashing in 2018.

The government accepted a proposal to develop 32 hectares of land from the 172-hectare Fanling site in 2019. According to official documents, about nine hectares of land will be used to build some 12,000 flats, which can accommodate around 33,600 people.

govt plan fanling golf course
A document showing the government planned to develop the sub-area 1 of Fanling Golf Course for public housing. Photo: Advisory Council on the Environment.

Land resumption at the Fanling golf course is considered a short-to-medium relief measure for Hong Kong’s housing crunch.

Chief Executive John Lee has made providing public housing one of the central pillars of his administration, although those who have already waited years for public housing do not expect much to change.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.