Hong Kong must face up to housing conundrum
It makes sense to consider striking a better balance between how much space we put aside for country parks and our housing needs
The question of whether some areas of our beloved country parks should be used for housing has come under the public spotlight again. While we all support protecting our environment, we also need to work harder to meet our housing needs. The real question is how to resolve our long-standing housing conundrum without compromising our natural wonders.
Over the years, the subject has been such a taboo that there has never been any serious discussion on the pros and cons of opening up some areas of our country parks for development. Credit, therefore, goes to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for broaching the issue at a critical juncture. Without the baggage of running for re-election, the outgoing leader can freely speak his mind about what he thinks is necessary for sustainable development.
Leung is being frank. Despite government efforts over the past few years, public housing output is still falling short of the targets set for the coming years. The problem lies in the fact that only 7 per cent of our land is zoned for housing, which is just one-sixth of the size of our country parks.
Under the government’s approach, enclaves worthy of protection will continue to be included in country parks. More than 38 hectares of land, including the Sai Wan site in Sai Kung, have been incorporated over the past years. At the same time, we can consider releasing some less ecologically sensitive country park areas for building subsidised housing and residential facilities for the elderly. Leung said flats in such areas could be sold at prices that exclude the land premium.
There are those who object to any form of development that would encroach on country parks. There are also those who fear that the city will ultimately be left with no country parks once a precedent has been set. The concerns can be addressed by first launching a feasibility study in designated areas, followed by a policy commitment of limiting the development to a certain scale.
Housing development and the preservation of country parks need not be mutually exclusive, as long as any construction is done in a measured and restrained manner. We can continue to tiptoe around our housing conundrum or pretend that the problem will simply go away. But amid growing demand for affordable housing, the pressure to think out of the box has become even greater. It makes sense to consider striking a better balance between how much space we put aside for country parks and our housing needs.