Community & Education Hong Kong

Gov’t land quietly leased to the wealthy for gardens, pools and tennis courts, watchdog says

A group of land activists have urged the government to make public its data related to short-term tenancies involving public land, so that a fairer land leasing mechanism can be achieved.

A study by the Liber Research Community, which monitors local land issues, found that the Hong Kong government currently has 5,300 active short-term tenancies involving 800 hectares of government land. Of which, around a third are effectively leased out as “private gardens for the rich,” they claimed.

See also: Lands Dept. turned ‘blind eye’ for 20 years over illegal structures on gov’t land – Ombudsman

They criticised the system for not being transparent, as it was often used by wealthy families and former officials who have resources and connections. The leases should each last five years, but many leases had been active since 2000.

Liber Research Community

Lawmaker Eddie Chu with members of Liber Research Community. Photo: Liber Research Community.

“There are a large number of short-term tenancies for which we lack details,” said Chan Kim-ching, a member of the Liber Research Community, after an RTHK radio programme of Wednesday. “The government has now set up a Task Force on Land Supply, it has to review short term tenancies, especially those held by tycoons.”

“Otherwise, the public would have a strong perception that, in seeking land for housing, country parks are being developed but the back gardens of some tycoons remain untouched. The public would think the whole land system is unfair.”

Pools and tennis court

An extreme case they found was at the Coral Villa in Sai Kung, where the public land lease totals 20,000 square feet – ten times the size of the site owned by the adjacent land owner. The leased public land was used to install two swimming pools and a tennis court.

An advertisement for the property – selling at HK$140 million – also noted that it had a private tennis court and pool, although they were not sat on private land. The activists questioned whether the owner used the public land to increase the value of the private property.

Some land leases were also much cheaper than the market price. For instance, short-term leased land next to the house of late Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat was let at HK$0.6 per square foot per month, but a plant nursery leased under public tender could attract HK$16.8 per square foot per month.

Lee Wing-tat

Lee Wing-tat. File Photo: Stand News.

Former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said the government should lease the land through public tender so that the public can monitor the process.

“At least we will know the lease prices and we can constantly check the lease, so that the short term-leases would not continue as long as 20 years,” said Lee, also the chairman of the Land Watch. “The Legislative Council has to ask – why was it leased for 20 years? Currently no-one has this information, not even the Legislative Council – there is a serious black box situation.”

He said even if no-one submitted tenders and tycoons continued to lease the land, there has to be an appropriate process.

Michael Wong Wai-lun

Michael Wong Wai-lun. File Photo: GovHK.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong told reporters at a lunch gathering that the government plans to put information about 800 unused land plots online by the end of the year. Some plots, which have been included in short-term leases, will be put online as well, reported RTHK.

He said Hong Kong has more than 5,000 short-term tenancies involving 2,400 hectares, of which 1,600 hectares are construction sites for the airport’s third runway, whilst other uses included telecom facilities, sports grounds, guard kiosks and other construction sites.

Wong said there are some 2,000 cases of occupation of government land still waiting to be handled and that he hoped they can be handled in two to three years. He admitted it would be impossible to stop all such occupations.

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Gov't land quietly leased to the wealthy for gardens, pools and tennis courts, watchdog says