Country parks are not sacrosanct, but the right to shelter is
Hong Kong is in dire need of more affordable housing and plans to explore the possibility of building on the fringes of country parks should be welcomed
Hong Kong suffers from a profound disproportionality of recreational country parks and living space. Some 41 per cent of Hong Kong’s land mass is designated as country parks protected from development, while only 7 per cent of land is earmarked for residential buildings.
What started out as a laudable policy by colonial governor Murray MacLehose has become one of our most divisive social issues today. Unless you think MacLehose’s policy is set in stone, it’s time we reconsider how much valuable land should be devoted purely to country parks at the expense of people and families desperate for affordable housing.
Our city suffers from an acute shortage of residential land supply and its housing market is one of the least affordable in the world. Targeting small slices of land on the of fringes of country parks for possible development is just common sense – or is it? Any such plans inevitably attract accusations of government collusion with developers, never mind that building public housing estates is hardly the most profitable venture given our crazy property market in the private sector.
Predictably, the usual suspects are up in arms about a government plan to commission the Housing Society to study the feasibility of building flats on the fringes of two country parks.
Notice the government isn’t even planning to build, but only study the issues involved. The scope of the commission has also been scaled down, as the society will look at just two sites on the edges of the Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks – rather than the initial five sites – that are considered to be of less ecological and recreational value.
Anti-government opposition, blind antagonism against development and ideological environmentalism seem more like the real motives. Today, there are 275,900 applications for public housing. Applicants and their families have to wait an average of four years and seven months, during which time they have to pay ridiculously high rents while still living in appalling conditions.
Meanwhile, single senior citizens have to wait about two years and seven months.
Any attempt to tackle our housing problem must be a multipronged approach. I am all for forcing big developers to cough up idle sites from their massive land banks; evicting New Territories bullies and illegal operators from brownfield sites; and kicking out wealthy tenants from public housing estates.
This does not mean all country parks are sacrosanct.