Housing set to gobble up Hong Kong's open space

Audit Commission report reveals seven sites are under threat as government decides if public recreation is best use of land resources

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 9:36am

Open space almost equal to the size of Victoria Park is set to be lost as part of the government's quest for more housing land.

This was shown yesterday in an Audit Commission report quoting figures provided by the Planning Department.

The report said seven sites totalling 15 hectares - 80 per cent of the size of Hong Kong's biggest park - were under scrutiny for housing after earlier being reserved for public use.

It did not say where the sites were apart from one already disclosed.

The information was given as part of a study started by the commission in February into the management and implementation of open space. The study also raised the question of whether open space reservations - 826 hectares since 2008 - were the best use of land resources in the face of fierce competition from other uses, including housing.

The reservations were aimed at providing scarce open space in crowded areas of 11 districts - Wan Chai, Central and Western, Eastern, Wong Tai Sin, Yau Tsim Mong, Kwun Tong, Kowloon City, Kwai Tsing, Yuen Long, Sai Kung and North - while boosting the total provision to 70 per cent above the minimum required by the department's planning guidelines. It was unknown yesterday whether the seven sites under review were in districts short of open space.

But the department said one of them was a 2.3-hectare golf-driving range in Cheung Sha Wan, which became known in January when the government lobbied district councillors to support the proposal.

The department will also propose to the Town Planning Board on Friday the rezoning of a green belt of 0.13 hectare in Clear Water Bay for low-rise housing.

While urging the department to "critically assess the future effective use of land", Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei said the review should be holistic rather than piecemeal.

Many districts still have shortfalls in the provision of either district or local open space … there is potential demand for more passive open space near home as a result of the ageing population
Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei

"Many districts still have shortfalls in the provision of either district or local open space … there is potential demand for more passive open space near home as a result of the ageing population," he said.

Vincent Ng Wing-shun, vice-president of the Urban Design Institute, said good urban design should not be quantified or audited.

"Open space brings intangible benefits to the city. It lets people breathe," he said, adding that the government should disclose the location of all seven sites under review for public discussion.

"Instead of giving out more open space to achieve the chief executive's land-hunting target, the Planning Department should stand by its decision and explain the imminent need to keep the reserved open space," he added.

The commission also found serious delay in completion of at least six parks and failure by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to maintain annual inspections of more than 300 sets of playground equipment.

It said this had given rise to 5,000 complaints about the cleanliness and condition of park facilities between January 2011 and June last year.

In the case of the planned 27-hectare Kwai Chung Park, first proposed in 1989, only a four-hectare BMX park had been completed almost 20 years later in 2008.

Work on the remaining 23 hectares has yet to start.