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Public Outcry over Parkland Lease For Golf Ranges
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The public and media in Tianjin showed upset the city is allowing two golf driving ranges to be built in a corner of a municipal park.

Citizens expressed their discontent to the media claiming their right to use the public park is being ignored by the park's pursuit of profit. The park manager has leased the land to investors of the driving ranges.

While golfing is becoming increasingly popular in China with hundreds of public courses and driving ranges being built, golf is still considered a "luxury" benefiting only a wealthy minority.

"The park's financial troubles are only an excuse for eyeing an high-end consumer market, at the expense of the public interests," said Li Jinran, a retired factory worker who was doing morning exercises in the park.

The park argues that current government funding is not nearly enough to pay for park maintenance and workers' salaries. The park has a staff of 1,200, half of whom are retired and still receiving payments from the park, said Pang Lianhua, an executive of the park.

The park will earn 800,000 yuan (US$100,000) a year by leasing 15,000 square meters of land to the two driving ranges. The leased land only represents about one percent of the park's total area.

Founded in 1986, the Tianjin Aqua-Amusement Park used to occupy 2.1 million square meters in a green belt and water area in the city's downtown. The park has already lost 300,000 square meters allowing hotels and restaurants to be built as well as the construction of the park's administrative office complex.

Despite media influence and public outcry, earth movers began preparing the ground for the driving ranges after the deals won approval from the city's Bureau of Parks and Woods.

As China's golf courses have increased rapidly in recent years, many such projects have been criticized misusing land.

The Land Utilization Administration of the Ministry of Land and Resources voiced concerns over the tight land supply in the real estate sector, singling out the blind approval of villas and golf courses for criticism.

Zhu Xufeng, an associate professor with Tianjin's prestigious Nankai University, said that parks are public assets financed by governments. They can earn some profits from commercial operating of amusement facilities and ticket fees, but management of public parks should not be profit-oriented.

So far, the local government has not made any move to respond to the public request to terminate the driving range projects.

(Xinhua News Agency October 26, 2006)

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