Hong Kong authorities may not be able to meet their initial goal of building 12,000 public housing flats on the Fanling golf course, the city’s development chief has said, as she reaffirmed the government’s intention to build on the site.

Fanling golf course
Fanling golf course. Photo: Wikicommons.

Asked whether the government would be able to deliver on the Civil Engineering and Development Department’s (CEDD) proposal to build 12,000 flats, Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn on Wednesday told reporters at the legislature: “The government has not given up on the housing development plan in the north [of the golf course] . We’re just respecting the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.”

The Environmental Protection Department last month gave conditional approval to the plan to build an estimated 12,000 flats for 33,600 residents on a nine-hectare plot of the Fanling course — part of a larger 32-hectare plot slated to be resumed by the government on September 1.

Also in May, Director of Environmental Protection Samuel Chui told the CEDD in a letter of the need to revise the housing development layout to preserve 0.39 hectares of woodland and minimise the impact on tree preservation “as far as practicable.”

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.

“The objective facts suggest that we might not be able to [build 12,000 flats]. If we make empty promises that we will be able to do it, that’s the same as saying that there’s no need to care about the EIA procedures,” she added.

The development minister’s remarks came after authorities on Monday redesignated the proposed use of the nine-hectare plot from “residential” to “undetermined”.

The development parameters will have to be adjusted, a Development Bureau statement reads, with “the magnitude of adjustment… subject to the findings of the [CEDD’s] review later and the Planning Department’s approval.”

The Planning Department — the Town Planning Board’s executive arm — will have to formulate a draft plan by the statutory deadline of end-November this year, after which the board will discuss the plan and start a 12-month review process, the statement reads.

Linn said the government would have to consider that the review is expected to be completed by the end of next year, saying “land development is a race against time.”

‘Alarm bells’

Speaking on an RTHK program on Wednesday, Brian Wong of the Liber Research Community said the government’s decision to rezone the plot was a rare move that would ring alarm bells as to whether authorities would actually commit to its early decision: “Adjusting development parameters does not change the zoning.”

He also said delaying the development plan would affect public housing construction goals, saying: “It’s a huge issue. It won’t be easy for the Housing Bureau to explain this to the public.”

Brian Wong
Brian Wong. File Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

That came as a government-recognised New Territories rural representatives body on Tuesday proposed developing an abandoned farmland site in the Ping Kong Tsuen village located next to the golf course. They suggested building nine high-rise apartment blocks consisting of 12,000 public housing units, each with an average floor area of 457 square feet.

Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau said villagers welcomed the idea to build homes on the flat terrain there, adding that he believed community facilities would come with the flats. He said the project could be completed more quickly than the golf course development, but denied the proposal was meant to be a replacement.

Linn on Wednesday said the government would not view the proposal as a replacement for the golf course redevelopment, and that it is still too early for the government to make any judgements on the proposal given that authorities have not assessed the proposal, which involved private land and no roads.

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James is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He has a bachelor’s degree in English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, with a minor in Journalism. He was previously a reporter at The Standard.