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HOUSING

Development secretary Paul Chan floats idea of building flats in country parks

As city sets 10-year housing target amid acute land shortage, minister says the possibility of developing park spaces should be discussed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 3:59pm
 

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9 Sep 2013
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The development minister has floated the idea of building flats on land in country parks, questioning whether such a controversial option was "untouchable and unmentionable".

The remarks by Paul Chan Mo-po are a radical departure from Leung Chun-ying's pledge when he was running for election as chief executive that country parks "should be protected from development as far as possible", a vow he shared in an interview with the South China Morning Post almost two years ago.

Laws stipulate that country parks are designated for the purposes of nature conservation, countryside recreation and outdoor education.

Chan's suggestion came after the committee devising a long-term housing strategy for Hong Kong last week unveiled a proposal to build 470,000 flats in the next 10 years, a target criticised as unattainable given the limited land supply.

Chan wrote on his blog yesterday that society should discuss and explore the possibility of developing country parks - an idea he said had recently been raised in various seminars - as more land would be needed to reach the housing target.

"During the exchange, someone mentioned that 70 per cent of Hong Kong's land is country parks, [and] in face of a shortage of land supply and a big housing demand ... can they not be developed at all?

"The development of country parks was seen as a restricted area, if not a taboo. Is it still completely untouchable and unmentionable today?" Chan asked.

Giving an example, he said some people believed development on Lantau, which is mostly country park, should not be limited to the island's north.

Criticising Chan's remarks, environmental activist Roy Tam Hoi-pong, of campaign group Green Sense, said the government should instead review immigration schemes aimed at attracting mainlanders, otherwise an influx of hundreds of thousands of people in the coming decade would make housing demands unbearable.

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Meanwhile, the secretary for transport and housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said building more flats had to take priority over increasing their size, although housing capacity and quality were mentioned in the committee's proposal.

"If you can't even increase the quantity, how do you increase [flat] areas?" Cheung said on TVB Jade's On the Record.

However, he hoped that the Housing Authority would consider building bigger public flats in more remote areas, conceding that Hong Kong fell behind some less developed countries in terms of living space per capita.

Lau Ping-cheung, Leung's housing adviser and a member of the committee, suggested vacant industrial buildings be turned into interim housing for people waiting for public flats.

Fellow committee member Fred Li Wah-ming said old public flats to be vacated for redevelopment should be converted into interim housing for the 230,000 applicants in the queue.

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This article is now closed to comments

impala
Sure, the topic should be open for debate. Some Country Parks only exist for the sake of the freshwater reservoirs they contain. There was a time when relations with the mainland were not reliable, and those reservoirs were vital for Hong Kong's water management.

Those days are long gone though, and it is not unreasonable to discuss whether such reservoirs and the surrounding Country Parks should remain untouched forever and always.

Yet, you cannot help but get the impression that Mr Chan is bringing this up out of sheer cowardice to face the vested interests that oppose his other land development options. Why don't we first address the small house policy, which is clearly wrong-headed and unsustainable? And what about that Fanling Golf Course? What about some real urban renewal in places like To Kwa Wan, Sham Shui Po or elsewhere? Or why are we wasting huge amounts on space on an unnecessary giant sports stadium at Kai Tak? How about some (tax) policies that would discourage landlords from letting apartments sit empty? How about something similar to incentivise the property developers to develop (and bring to market!) the dozens if not hundreds of plots sitting in their land banks?

Why does our government have no coherent vision on land policy, and worse: why does it seem to want to avoid any hard decisions or more complicated policies that might change the status quo just a tiny bit? Instead, they choose the path of least resistance. Frustrating.
johnyuan
To response to jve’s math of the following:
“So basically, we are allowing as many mainland immigrants in as we have (net) babies being born.” I will look at it from another perspective:
.....
Hong Kong’s birth rate is considered to be low. It is being kept low because couples refrain from forming family in adverse living conditions in Hong Kong. Yet, with the 150 mainlanders daily settling in Hong Kong, we are doubling the birthrate of that natural response by the sensible people in Hong Kong.
….
With 150 new comers and assuming only a third would require immediate household formation, we are talking of building two 30-story residential towers in every Districts EVERY YEAR. More if back logs are considered. Yes in your backyard. This property development game has played long enough. CY Leung, it is your opportunity to stop this lunacy.
Dai Muff
We top the world in prices because of speculation and lack of rent controls. Not space. There is a flat next to me that has been empty for eight years while people go homeless. Curb the greed, not the parks.
dktatlow
Without the country parks Hong Kong will be like any other mainland Chinese city -- ugly, a grey wasteland, overwhelming polluted with little escape for residents. People's connection to nature will break off even more, damaging their humanity. The parks are Hong Kong's lung, its heart, they are what keeps families living in the city. Don't cut them up.
fsk999
If this Sacred Cow is ever slaughtered or even slightly injured the Hong Kong we know and love will gradually become more and more like other Chinese cities. Maybe that is the idea. However, if he blogged this yesterday during his Sunday off, maybe he was suffering from too much of Henry's throw-away basement wine...
mcheung
Excellent suggestion! It's discriminatory to give free land to build small house to indigenous people not yet born, and not giving to people who were born in HK in the city, but not indigenous, twenty or thirty years ago.
Dai Muff
Because we won't double the living space. It'll just increase the profit base for some people and the poor will still be living in subdivided apartments.
dascaldasf
I am with you on your first paragraph but the idea of 10% country parks give-away do not work. Have you not heard of the saying: give an inch and a yard is taken? You can work out on the percentages to that. (You might not know this but developers move into sensitive areas with bulldozers and trucks clearing vegetation, trees, shrubs before they submit applications to the Town Planning Board for road widening and surveying. This malpractice has to stop.)
sydmel
What do Hong Kong people really want? Conservation or destruction in the name of "development"? Especially when such development is to accomodate unlimited migrants from mainland China, I will say No! No! No!
darehk
check first to be sure neither he nor his family, including the bankrupt ones, do not own any country parks

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