Environment secretary Wong Kam-sing said on Monday Hong Kong had no plans to build flats on land in country parks despite development secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s floating of the idea in his blog on Sunday.
Chan’s remarks, which have stirred a heated debate in the community, represent a radical departure from a pledge made by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying when he was running for election.
At the time, Leung said, "I attach great importance to green belt zones. They should be protected from development as far as possible."
Wong, when asked about Chan’s suggestions, said the government had no plans to change its policy on country parks and considered it very important to protect them.
“There are certain principles we have to respect with country parks [as] we have well-established laws to protect them,” Wong said.
He said the development secretary was only citing ideas put forward by members of the community while discussing land and housing issues.
“[These] included innovative ideas for land use in country parks,” Wong said, adding the government was open-minded to different ideas.
Chan wrote in his blog on Sunday 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.
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. This target has been criticised as unattainable given the limited land supply.
On Monday afternoon, the Development Bureau also issued a statement saying the remarks carried in Chan’s blog did not represent the government's stance on the issue.
“[Chan] quoted seminar attendees who suggested that developing land in country parks was worth considering as there was a shortage of land and a large demand for housing,” a bureau spokesman said.
“This was a sharing of views by some members of the community intended to provide a basis for discussion. It does not represent the government’s stance,” he said.
The spokesman also said country parks made up about 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s land, not 70 per cent as was cited in Chan’s blog.