Heung Yee Kuk leader backs idea of country park flats
Lau Wong-fat urges review of protected areas, saying homes could be built on less ecologically sensitive land to ease city's housing shortage
Olga Wong and Gary Cheung
Rural strongman Lau Wong-fat has suggested flats could be built in certain areas of country parks to ease the housing shortage.
He called for a review of the size of the parks, but rejected a suggestion that land allocated to indigenous villagers be rezoned to boost the supply of homes.
Lau, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, said a review would help the government strike a balance between protecting the countryside and addressing the soaring demand for flats. He also said private land inside parks should be released to build more flats.
"There's no universal standard for setting the size of country parks. It would depend on the local context to decide its proportion," Lau said yesterday.
His comments came two days after Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po floated the controversial idea of building flats in country parks, which was seen as a radical departure from the chief executive's pledge during his election campaign to protect parks from development.
Lau echoed Chan's view that flats could be considered in ecologically less sensitive areas of the parks. "For land [in parks] that is worth protecting, the government should specify them and compensate the owners if they are privately owned."
But he rejected outright the idea of allowing the rezoning of village land reserved for indigenous villagers to build homes. He said: "The government has plenty of land. How come it is eyeing privately owned land?"
And he expressed disappointment at the administration's failure to meet demand for homes from indigenous villagers, comparing it to the scramble to find land for urban dwellers.
Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee agreed that country parks could be downsized. He said reducing the parks by one per cent could provide land to house more than 100,000 people.
But such ideas were criticised by ex-officials, including former planning director Peter Pun Kwok-shing and former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying.
"The way we decided a country park's boundary is not science or derived from calculations," Pun said. "But I won't say it's arbitrary. We consulted the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department and other experts."
Factors taken into account included the need to protect water catchments, trees and animals, and preservation of the topography. "We need a study to justify why we need to redraw the boundaries," he said.
Lam, who helped Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying formulate the environmental policies in his election manifesto, likened the idea of building flats in country parks to a cancer cell. "If you give away 100 square feet now, later you will ask for 100 square feet more. Ultimately, it will destroy the original aim of having country parks, which is to enable the public to enjoy nature."
Green areas, including woodland, wetland, barren land and country parks, make up 70 per cent of the city's land. Country parks alone make up 40 per cent.
The new administration has relaxed its planning rules to allow flats encroaching upon green belts and open space.