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  • Updated: 7:16pm
NewsHong Kong

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


  • Yes: 17%
  • No: 83%
9 Sep 2013
  • Yes
  • No
Total number of votes recorded: 711

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

I don't disagree with yout, but please note that what really drives the itty-bitty flats is the government's density requirements for residential zoned land. Without reforming those policies, no amount of new (Country Park) land is going to lead to more spacious flats.
In the 15-year period 1997-2012, some 750,000 formerly mainland residents settled permanently in Hong Kong.

The vast majority of these come in through the one-way permit scheme, which is currently maxed-out with a waiting list of many years. The quota of the scheme is set at 150 entries per day. That's 4,500 per month, or about 55,000 mainland immigrants per year.

To put it into perspective: that is about the same as the natural growth rate of the HK population, which has around 80~100k births and 40~50k deaths in a year (net natural growth: 40~50k per year). So basically, we are allowing as many mainland immigrants in as we have (net) babies being born.
I am not saying that those 55,000 mainland immigrants per year are too few, or too many. I am just stating the facts in response to a comment asking how many mainland immigrants we are indeed receiving. And the answer is: a lot; roughly as many as we have natural population growth (births-deaths).

If asked for a value judgement about this, yes, I would agree with you that, given the significant problems we face in terms of housing (and other) shortages, it is a questionable policy to consistently double our population's annual growth rate. And what is most worrying, is the long term impact of this. We now have 10% of the population that moved here in the past 15 years from the mainland. If this continues at the same pace, that will be 20% by 2027, etc.
WHAT IF... What you are saying amounts to the equivalent of what had happened in Rain Forests in Brazil will be happening to HK. Would you be satisfied with something that is man-made and not natural to the environment? Can you not image the difference between green rooftops and countryside. Can you see yourself or your children/grand children going up to walks on rooftops? You have only considered giving up on nature for just buildings. There are, of course, pipes, sewage, population, vehicles etc. What the government 'promise' today will be empty words tomorrow. Look around you. When the government only plays an 'advisory' role, no one listens, i.e. the cross harbour tunnels, transportation companies and electric companies. One cannot live on promises after it's gone!
Appreciate your views.
The housing situation in HK is acute, local & historical.
The city was never planned for the current & growing population.
The city functions, however, behind the scenes, people are packed in concrete boxes. Some may say: "At the very least, they have roofs on top of their heads." In reality, it's extremely difficulty for those below the 'safety net' to find half decent accommodation in HK. For HK to lay claims as Asia's World City, that's absolutely pitiful.
There is already a two-tier housing system in HK, the private sector (For the privileged) and public sector (For the less privileged). The problem lies with the public sector housing programs. There is gross imbalance between supply and demand - much more is needed and preferably soon. The less privileged has no access to half (or 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/20) decent accommodation. For the less privileged, space is their sanctuary. For them, any space will do, green space, built space, air space, so long as it's their own adequate space to satisfy their basic needs. Until the basic hierarchy of needs are satisfied, it's difficult for people to move forward.
HK has its set of unique problems, it's up the capable and far-sighted individuals of the Government or philanthropic groups to resolve.
As I mentioned previously, technology is the key, however, people are the drivers.
"the primary issue is price, not availability" -- wrong, there is a serious problem of availability. Hong Kong has the least housing area per person of any developed economy. We have lower quality and far more expensive housing than many developing countries. Speculators make easy scapegoats but speculation wouldn't be so attractive if the government could be relied upon to expand housing supply to meet the aspirations of the populace.
Rent control is opposed for a good reason -- it is extremely distortionary and inequitable over the long term. I suggest you look at the situation in cities such as New York and San Francisco, where the rents paid by neighbors in identical apartments sometimes differ by a factor of 5.
Is Paul Chan serious about this? Does he know anything about biodiversity and nature conservation? To talk about this in his 'blog' - that society should discuss and explore the possibility of developing country parks - an idea he said had recently been raised in various seminars'. Whose idea? His or developers? Even if an ordinary man might have suggested it, does it merit Paul Chan to put it in his blog? Someone's idea can influence him to use it? It is not obvious that Paul Chan should find alternatives before turning to the ideas of others? Is he out of touch with the law on this subject? Does he still have land close to country parks? What credibility does he still have ... anymore?
Its not merely homes that we need. If it were then the Government ought proposing people live in subdivided flats. As an international city, other than just cramped homes we must spare a thought for the quality of the living environment. CY had mentioned many times before that there is adequate supply of land. Get the inspectors out and check on which flats are vacant for an unreasonably long period and stop landlords hoarding them. This applies to developers as well. Then hink of imposing 'vacant flat' taxes on greedy landlords. Supply of flats for rent or sale should rise and bring prices down.
I think you may be letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Kai Tak, the Fanling Golf course, and urban redevelopment put together are not going to provide enough housing to significantly put a dent in housing prices (let alone average flat sizes). Most of the land allocated for small house building is scattered and not suitable for large scale development anyway.
There is no single silver bullet solution, sure. But the Fanling golf course is 170 hectares and could become home to over 30,000 flats. Cancelling the Kai Tak Sports Complex would provide space for another 35,000 flats (in addition to the 35,000 already planned there in the current blueprint). So there we have 100,000 flats we could start on tomorrow.

That leaves space for 370,000 to be found. Where are we on the 3,000 flats that were going to be built in the old Lamma Quarry? Oh, and how about instead of this third runway nonsense, we speed up the Tung Chung East project (38,000 flats)?

Sure, none of it is a panacea, but I am just so tired of this government showing no comprehensive vision whatsoever and avoiding to touch anything that might upset the status quo, while we have hundreds of thousands of people being unable to afford decent housing, people living in cage homes, people living in unsafe, tiny, subdivided flats, people not being able to afford having kids due to no space etc, while the property developers and other vested interest groups are laughing all the way to the bank. And make no mistake: that is purely the result of at least half a decade of complete and utter failure of the government to have a proper land supply and planning policy.



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