A Hong Kong centrist party has criticised top government advisors for openly opposing plans to turn part of a sprawling golf course in Fanling into public housing, calling their words at odds with the administration’s messaging about the urgency of the housing crisis.

Third Side fanling golf course
Members of Third Side, including chairperson Tik Chi-yuen (second left), outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Third Side held a press conference outside the government’s Admiralty headquarters on Monday urging officials in the Executive Council – some of whom are members of the Hong Kong Golf Club, which runs the golf course – to be “more cautious” with their words.

“Some [people] in the government, Executive Council members, have different views,” said Tik Chi-yuen, chairperson of the Third Side. “Their words carry weight… the Executive Council should support the government’s direction.”

Authorities first proposed building public housing on the site of the Fanling golf course, which the Hong Kong Golf Club will return to the government next year, in 2018.

Fanling golf course
Fanling golf course. Photo: Wikicommons.

Tik, who is also Hong Kong’s sole non-pro-establishment lawmaker, did not name the Executive Council members the party was referring to. In recent months, both Regina Ip, the convener of the Executive Council, and member Ronny Tong, have voiced disapproval of the plan.

“I am not a golfer, but the 3 18-hole golf courses at Fanling are among the finest in Asia,” Ip tweeted in June. She also questioned why a government “purportedly dedicated to sports promotion [should] damage” the “world-class” golf course.

Tong, meanwhile, said in an August Facebook post that the plan to turn the golf course into a public housing estate undermined the government’s aim of attracting foreign talent.

“If they want to express their personal views, they need to think about whether they should be in the Executive Council. Otherwise, [their words] could create confusion in the society and cause the public to lose confidence [in the government],” Tik said.

Ip and Tong are among at least five non-official Executive Councillors who have a Hong Kong Golf Club membership, according to HK01.

HKFP reached out to both Ip and Tong. Ip’s secretary said she was not available, while Tong declined to comment.

Like the city’s leaders before him, Chief Executive John Lee has pledged to increase the supply of housing for low-income groups. Currently, around 226,000 people – many who have been waiting to move into government-subsidised public housing for years – live in cramped subdivided flats.

Regina Yip
Convenor of the Executive Council and lawmaker Regina Ip. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

In June, China’s top office for handling Hong Kong affairs called on authorities to tackle the city’s deep-rooted housing crisis.

Asked whether Executive Council members should ask Lee before expressing their opinions publicly, Tik said only that they should seek a “tacit agreement” with the leader first.

Proposed completion date of 2029

The project was pushed back in August after an environmental advisory body requested more information from the government.

Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn told reporters at a construction industry event last Monday that the plan would go ahead.

“The government is fully devoted to implementing this project. Our intention has not changed,” she said.

Around 12,000 units will be built on nine hectares of the Fanling site with a proposed completion date of 2029. “This is an important part of our 10-year housing supply [target],” Linn added.

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.

Timothy Chui, vice-chair of Third Side, said the golf course was “probably the only [site] that can be used in the short term and has already entered the planning process.”

Other government proposals, including developing land in Lantau Island and the northern New Territories, would not increase housing supply in the near term, the party added.

How authorities handle the Fanling golf course project, Tik said, was “a test for the government’s determination towards addressing the housing problem.”

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.