Country parks not currently needed for flats: planning chief

Planning chief says, based on development patterns, other options can be considered first such as rural land and conservation areas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 5:39pm

There is no immediate need to use country park land for residential flats, the planning chief said in a statement that was a departure from the development minister's call for wider discussion of the contentious issue.

In a forum on sustainable development yesterday, Planning Director Ling Kar-kan stressed that country parks were important to the city. "At this stage, there is no need to bring development into country parks," he said. "They are an important part of Hong Kong's ecosystem."

Ling's remarks came a week after Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po - who oversees the planning department - blogged that Hongkongers should discuss if country parks should be used to build flats.

Chan has since been backed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his housing advisers. Country parks occupy 40 per cent of Hong Kong land.

But the suggestion shocked environmentalists. Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying, who helped Leung formulate the environmental policies in his election manifesto, has likened it to "a cancer cell".

Chan's controversial blog post came after an official committee on long-term housing strategy unveiled a 10-year plan to build 470,000 flats. The target was seen as unattainable given the city's limited land supply.

Asked if there would come a point when country parks had to make way for flats, Ling said there were many alternatives to creating housing supply. These included developing land in Tung Chung and the northeastern New Territories.

He said Hong Kong's development followed a density pattern, decreasing outward from the city centre towards the new towns, followed by "transitional zones" including rural land and nature conservation areas, and then country parks.

Current developments focused on such transitional areas because of their proximity to developed areas and the lower costs involved in developing infrastructure there, he said.

But Leung's housing advisers on the committee defended Chan's suggestion. Lau Ping-cheung said the size of country parks could be discussed because their designation did not involve "absolute science".

"The concept of country park planning … involves a certain level of subjectivity and is a matter of judgment. So how large or small their sizes are - whether they should be expanded or reduced - is nothing absolute," he said.

Commenting on environmentalists' proposals, Lau questioned whether Hong Kong, as an international metropolis, should remove a golf course for residential purposes.

Fellow committee member Michael Choi Ngai-min said that while country parks could be considered at a later stage after other available options like vacant farmland and the green belt had been exhausted, the recent debate reflected a need for a balance between conservation and residential construction.

"The government's biggest problem is whatever it puts up for consultation ... opposing voices say it will affect the environment in varying degrees," he said.

Another member, Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, said he floated the idea of developing country parks a year ago.

Asked how he could prevent too many parks from being developed, he said :"If the government is strong enough to say … we are going to use only about two per cent of it, then that's fine."