Leung Chun-ying and his lands officials and advisers are in overdrive to prepare the public that country parks may be open to development.
Just this week, former Executive Council member Franklin Lam Fan-keung has suggested parks on Lantau are ripe for development. Lau Ping-cheung, a fellow member of the government-appointed Lantau Development Advisory Committee, suggested Hong Kong people travel to the mainland for open spaces if more country parks ended up being developed. Do these people really think they have credibility just because they carry some official-sounding titles?
All these came after development minister Paul Chan Mo-po suggested building in Lantau's two country parks would improve the environment, rather than damage it. I am at a loss as to why Leung thinks it would work out to field these unsympathetic characters to sell such a controversial plan. Chan has consistently been the most unpopular minister in the current cabinet. Lam was embroiled in political controversies which made his staying on the Exco impossible. And Lau hardly endeared himself to the public by telling people to go to the mainland if they want more space. What, to get fresher air?
Like most people, I am sceptical of the development plan, though I am not dead set against it. The devil is in the details. The scale and locations, of course, remain to be decided, though Lantau has been a main focus. But many Hong Kong people implicitly assume protection of the country parks to be part of our social contract. Given the small housing space available to most people, the general lack of urban amenities and bad air, the country parks are there to make up for the sacrifices we have been forced to make by successive administrations, especially that of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, to pursue a policy of high land premiums.
Leung consistently claims we need more land. But many independent experts have rightly questioned whether the lack of land and flat supply stemmed from the government's control of land sales and developers' expanding land banks rather than any real physical shortage. Leung may have a legitimate case to make, but he has not made it so far. Those who speak for him are even less convincing.