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  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 10:58pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 2:47am

Officials have always hated Hong Kong's country parks

There's no other explanation for recurring schemes to pave over these city treasures, to provide development land we don’t need


As the writer of the South China Morning Post’s Monitor column, Tom Holland attempts each day to make sense of the latest developments in business, finance and economic affairs in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Hong Kong government officials have long suffered from a malignant combination of agoraphobia and chlorophobia - a terror of open spaces coupled with an irrational fear of the colour green.

Take our public servants and put them anywhere they are not surrounded by glittering shopping malls, grade A office towers and "luxury" property developments, and they break out in a cold sweat.

Worse, if there happens to be any vegetation around, they begin to panic. Their heart rates shoot up, they start to hyperventilate, their knees begin to tremble and they come over all faint.

Restored to normality again in the air-conditioned cocoons of their chauffeur-driven official cars, they shake their heads as they slowly recover and mutter: "It's no good, it'll have to go."

At least that's the only explanation I can think of for the government's long-standing animosity towards Hong Kong's 24 country parks.

Loved by the city's population as islands of natural beauty, havens of tranquility, and easily accessible playgrounds away from the urban turmoil of everyday life, Hong Kong's parks had 13 million "recorded" visitors last year, according to the government.

Given that the vast majority of visits go unrecorded, that means the parks were used many, many times more than that.

Yet our officials are resolutely hostile. Back in 2002, with the city's property market five years into a cyclical slump, one government genius suggested the best way to plug the Hong Kong's budget deficit would be to sell off the country parks for property development.

Happily for everyone, that idea came to nothing. Now, however, our officials are at it again. In his blog last week, Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po suggested that Hong Kong's country parks could be built over for housing.

The argument officials advance privately is that the city is desperately short of building land. If the government is to build the 470,000 flats Hong Kong needs over the next 10 years to alleviate its acute housing shortage, then developing country-park land is the only option.

This is nonsense of a high order.

First, let's examine the notion that Hong Kong needs 470,000 new homes.

According to the government's own forecasts, the city's population is set to increase by some 484,000 souls over the next 10 years.

Accepting the official projection that average household size will fall from 2.9 to 2.8, and factoring in the disproportionately rapid growth of small households, that implies the formation of 300,000 new households by 2023.

Even allowing for a charitable estimate of the numbers currently living in sub-standard conditions who need to be rehoused, and factoring in a faster rate for the demolition of old housing, it is hard to imagine that Hong Kong's demand for new homes over the next 10 years could exceed 350,000 flats - a far cry from the 470,000 flats the government wants.

If we then assume these 350,000 new homes are built at a density of just 500 per hectare - generous compared with densities of up to 1,030 per hectare in the government's new towns - then the total land area required for building comes to 700 hectares, or seven square kilometres.

Hong Kong boasts plenty of spare room to build on without going anywhere near the country parks

Even the government's 470,000-flat plan would need less than 10 square kilometres.

A quick glance at the Planning Department's figures for land use shows that Hong Kong boasts plenty of spare room to build on without going anywhere near the country parks (see the chart).

For example, 16 square kilometres are currently classed as vacant, with a another 16 square kilometres used for warehouses or "open storage". The government itself occupies 25 square kilometres.

And there is an enormous 342 square kilometres of scrubland, woodland, grassland and agricultural land (which excludes both villages and golf courses) sitting outside the boundaries of the city's country parks.

In short, there is an abundance of potential building land, and no need at all for the government to consider concreting our treasured country parks.

You can only conclude that our officials must suffer from a deep-seated fear and loathing of undeveloped public spaces.



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This article is now closed to comments

To those selfish park lovers, assuming we double the stat to 26m per yr, we are looking at approx. 4 visits per person a yr. but we have 24 parks. I would argue for the poor and low income family they couldn't even afford the time and transportation to goto the park as they need to work at weekends mostly. I believe regular visitors will go at least twice a month that is 26 times a yr. by that I would argue majority of people or over 50% of people do not go to park even once per yr. so if we a a democratic society, should we listen to these 50% plus people? Why would they want to scarify for the people who can afford the time and money to goto the park yet they have to live in shoeboxes and sub divided flats? See my comments below too.
To those opposing the parks to be developed for housing, if I read the chart right, current residential is 80 sq km vs parks are 442k. Now if you just remove 10% of the park it will create 44 sq km and will added more than 50% to the residential land supply. I must declare that I live in 2000 sq ft space I still not comfortable. I'm speaking for those who live in subdivided flats and coffin home, or middle class professional family of 4 plus a nanny live in a 400 sq ft to 700 st ft home. Yes they all have a home but small and expensive. I'm sure they all want to live brig get space as they live there 365 days a year. Can u all scarify for these people just with less 10% parks as u only goes 2 a yr in average? Or are u willing to swap your comfortable home with these group of subdivided fats, coffin homes, or even 400 st ft for family of 4? If yes and you re willing, then you can stand up to fight for your park. If not please shut up! Again, just ask one simple question why singapore can and Hk can't ?
Wwong888: we are not saying no one using the park but we need to justify having so many people living in small places to justify the parks. See my response to u.
Just goto the park n take a look! Assuming the stat is right, that's less than 2 time per yr per person. If you reduce the park by say 50%, it is still not crowded. In any cae, please be fair to those family of 4 living in less than 400 sq ft, subdivided flat etc. if you feel slighly crowded going to the park just twice a year, please think for those who has to live in shoebox for their whole life. This country partk concept is a legacy of the colonial system that officials in Hk enjoying parks as they have big house in mid level, but they had not planned for Hk have over 7m and increasing population. Why should we follow this colonial thinking? Just check Singapore and people live happily with more space and how they handle prks? Why hk people can't live like Singaporean ?
Tom, you cannot measure future housing need simply by population growth. There is an existing shortage of hundreds of thousands of residences.
You are right though, about there being plenty of land to build on without using country parks; unfortunately, however, the country parks are gravely threatened with massive development right now as the Heung Yee ****'s nefarious developers allies are buying up large swathes of land sold to them by indigenous villagers and indigenous villagers all over HK and the world are making applications to build in the country park villages.
I would like to see the statistics on the number of former civil servants who take early retirement and suddenly find themselves as 'managers' in the property sector - it borders on institutional collusion.
When Victoria Barracks in Queensway was handed back to the HK Government what did they do with it ? High Court, another mall, two (?) 5-Star hotels, a 'prison' for birds and a "Tea Museum', oh, and the British Consulate and British Council and 'most importantly' Hong Kong government offices!
Whatever happened to the white parakeets - retired with pension? Never, ever, expect a minimalist approach by government - they foul things up every time! Former Marine Police HQ near Star House ? I rest my case ! How can these people be trusted to view the Country Parks as anything except as development fodder - HANDS OFF!
I agree that there is no need to consider reducing country parks to provide housing, and I do not believe that providing more land for housing would neccesarily reduce the cost of housing. The developers are mandated to grow profits and that means keep prices up to the limit of affordability.
But the biggest assumption to be challenged is the need or benefit of allowing HK's population to increase so far by immigration. Growth is not essential, sustainable or sensible.
@"I do not believe that providing more land for housing would necessarily reduce the cost of housing"
This sounds like a denial of basic principles of supply and demand. If housing supply increases, then prices will decline (for a given level of demand). The developers' wishes have nothing to do with it.
Tom, I'm a hiker and jogger live in suburb, honestly I don't see too many Hkongers using the parks. You probably live in mid level or a comfortable condo, you are right on the stats but how many are living in small places, not even mentioning sub divided flats. If we have a solution to make Hk people lives like Singaporean, I think we have no objection of keeping the parks. But if for many well off middle class who already enjoying a nice place and space and demanding the others to scarify for your green park, I think is unfair,
I must declare I live in a relative big place in Hk standard but I'm not happy at all as I still see Hk is too expensive. Land costs is not just affecting property price, rent but also our grocery and many many goods and services. I don't think that is justify for having so many parks that we actually couldn't afford. And asking the majority of people scarify for the small group of people including yourselves.
did you read the article? are you able to comprehend the pie chart? please use your mind to process the facts tom presented, and then reflect on the issue. your anecdotes of who does or doesn't use the parks is useless. have you been to some of the parks in NT or Kowloon? Shing Muen resevoir? please go and then see if you anecdote makes any sense. Speak Freely, but please Think Before you Speak.
If you have a point to make, make it, instead of just criticizing others. SpeakFreely makes good sense to me.




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