New Hong Kong country park chief enters the fray vowing to be fair

Ex-police boss takes over helm just as minister sparks row over developing conservation areas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 8:51am

The man named as the new chief of the Country and Marine Parks Board just as a debate on development in the parks erupted has vowed to be "impartial and fair".

Former commissioner of police Tang King-shing dismissed suggestions that his relative lack of experience in conservation would hamper his work.

It is not a matter of how much the chairman knows; it is about the composition of the board. We can always borrow their brains to make better decisions

"It is not a matter of how much the chairman knows; it is about the composition of the board. We can always borrow their brains to make better decisions," he said.

The board, which has the power to approve construction within parks, is the statutory advisory body overseeing all of Hong Kong's 29 parks, including five marine parks.

Tang, who retired from the police in 2011, was made a member of the parks board that same year - which marks the extent of his conservation experience.

Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power and a new board member, said: "Tang might be seen as independent and willing to listen. But when it comes to real discussion, he might not be able to help much."

Another board member, who preferred anonymity, questioned whether Tang could be as "proactive and vocal" as the two previous chairpersons, mangrove expert Professor Nora Tam Fung-yee and soil specialist Professor Chau Kwai-cheong.

But Tang said his experience of participating in high-level government discussions would give him an edge in keeping meetings "impartial".

His appointment comes after Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po sparked criticism by suggesting that country parks should not necessarily be no-go areas when it came to increasing building land.

Tang said any policy that affected the parks should be discussed carefully, not just within the board. Vowing to be "impartial and fair", he added: "It is very important that we strike a balance among various parties."

Asked if he would support continued expansion of country parks into adjacent enclaves, as at Tai Long Sai Wan in Sai Kung, Tang said: "How we did things in the past does not mean that we must do the same nowadays. We should actively look at what the problem really is, its context and what other considerations we need to take into account."

His appointment came on September 1 in a reshuffle that also saw the board expand from 17 to 22 members. New additions include Joseph Mo Ka-hung from the Heung Yee Kuk, who led the campaign against incorporating Sai Wan village into a country park, and fashion designer William Tang Tat-chi, an indigenous New Territories resident.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday said he believed Tang and the board could strike a balance when it came to considering society's overall interests.

"The country parks' value and meaning to society is not limited to conservation as they are places for public leisure and recreation, too," he said. "So the parks are not solely about conservation and the background of the board members is not necessarily in conservation."