The High Court will decide next Friday whether to block the government’s approval of an environmental impact assessment report that would allow the building of public housing on part of Hong Kong’s scenic Fanling golf course.

The Hong Kong Golf Club had sought a judicial review of the decision on the grounds that the assessment had not been properly conducted.

Fanling golf course
Fanling golf course. Photo: Wikicommons.

Appearing before High Court Judge Russell Coleman on Thursday, the club’s lawyer Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu defended its application for a temporary suspension order against approval of the assessment.

The Fanling course, which is leased from the government, covers 172 hectares. Authorities plan to take back a section covering 32 hectares – 9.5 hectares for housing and the rest for conservation and recreation – after the club’s lease expires next month.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in May gave conditional approval to the plan to build subsidised housing for 33,600 residents on the 9.5-hectare plot, after the Civil Engineering and Development Department was told to provide additional information.

‘Acting beyond its powers’

The High Court last month allowed the golf club to apply for a judicial review of the environmental impact assessment, which concluded that around eight hectares of the golf course was suitable for housing. The court also granted an interim order to put the government’s approval of the report on hold.

Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu
Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu leaving the High Court on July 21, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Judicial reviews examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies but issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

The golf club says the EPD acted beyond its powers as it did not “first permit/invite public comment” on the further information provided by the CEDD. But the majority of the Town Planning Board remain supportive of the housing plan.

Yu said the Fanling course’s hundred-year history made it Hong Kong’s oldest course, with a valuable cultural heritage, which had hosted international events such as the Hong Kong Open.

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

The barrister said the course’s historical value was no less significant than that of Queen’s Pier, and questioned how building public housing there would contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage. Old and valuable trees were growing on parts of the plot slated for public housing.

Yu said the golf club did not launch the legal challenge so that it might renew its lease, but rather to challenge the “inadequacies” of the environmental impact assessment in the interests of conservation.

Order remains in effect

Representing the director of environmental protection, senior counsel and former justice minister Rimsky Yuen said the government would not initiate any land use studies or land surveys in the disputed area within the next 24 months, or until the judicial review was complete, if the golf club withdrew its application for an order.

rimsky yuen legco
Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

But Yu rejected the proposal, saying such an order was necessary to cover the Town Planning Board’s administrative procedures.

Judge Coleman adjourned his verdict to next Friday and allowed the temporary suspension order to remain in effect.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods
tote bag support
YouTube video

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit.

Success! You're on the list.

James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.