3rd October 2023 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s Town Planning Board held a public hearing today to further discuss the land use of the Fanling Golf Course, after the government recently reclaimed 32 hectares of the old course area. The board revealed that they received a total of 1,903 valid objections, with 1,872 expressing opposition, accounting for a staggering 98% of all submissions. In contrast, only 23 objections showed support, while 8 were categorised as partially supportive and partially opposing. However, upon investigation, it was discovered that at least four objection documents submitted during the hearing were found to contain false information, all of which were against housing development.
The Planning Department pointed out that after the Town Planning Board’s secretariat invited relevant individuals to attend the hearing, some respondents confirmed their attendance but failed to submit any further objections regarding the proposed plans. After verifying the truthfulness of these cases, the Town Planning Board will treat them as “non-existent” objections. Some lawmakers have expressed that false statements are not uncommon and believe that the current system helps in detecting such cases. They further commented that the small number of false objections diminishes their significance, stating that if there were hundreds of false objections, it would be a mere attempt to create noise, rendering it meaningless and ineffective.
On another note, according to the latest documents submitted by the Planning Department, there appears to be a shift in the government’s stance. They mentioned that due to an ongoing judicial review of the environmental impact assessment report and the need for further examination by the Lands Department, the wording related to housing development has been modified. The term “housing plan” has been changed to “proposed housing plan,” and significant portions pertaining to housing content have been greatly omitted. Some of the objections submitted to the Town Planning Board also suggested that the authorities should categorise the land in question as “undecided use,” which could potentially impact the board’s decision. They recommended changing the land use to “other designated purposes” and specifying it as a “conservation and recreation” zone. Moreover, they argued that the mention of the eventual construction of public housing in the explanatory document is a “hypothetical statement” and should be removed. They emphasised the importance of the land’s cultural, ecological, and social value.
However, the Planning Department emphasised that the government’s intention remains focused on developing public housing on the site to address the pressing housing issues. They will consider the results of the Lands Department’s examination and the outcome of the judicial review. They also stated that designating the land as “undecided use” is an appropriate and flexible approach in response to the uncertainty brought about by the judicial review. This approach also addresses the court’s reminder to the Town Planning Board not to assume that government decisions are “sacrosanct.” Before the executive meeting, the Chief Executive reiterated that the government’s position on the Fanling Golf Course is clear. Regardless of the Town Planning Board’s final decision, the government has committed to leasing a portion of the reclaimed golf course for hosting golf tournaments and supporting the organising association.