PLA dismissed inquiry into regaining military land, says Paul Chan Mo-po

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:14am

An attempt to turn military land over to housing has failed after the People's Liberation Army told the Hong Kong government that they needed the sites for defence use.

Development minister Paul Chan Mo-po revealed that the plan had collapsed almost a year after telling lawmakers the government was "working on" the idea of redeploying military land for residential use.

Last February, legislator Lam Tai-fai asked whether the government would consider building flats on the 10-hectare Osborn Barracks site in Kowloon Tong. The question came amid a row between the government and the Baptist University over whether a neighbouring site should be earmarked for housing or a Chinese medicine teaching hospital.

Chan has since been criticised over his ideas for potential housing sites, including suggesting country parks should not be safe from development.

While the parks and the barracks have escaped rezoning, the government has been changing sites zoned for government, institution and community use into housing land and seeking to rezone green-belt sites for flats.

Asked on an RTHK show yesterday whether he was still negotiating with the army for the Osborn Barracks site, the development minister said: "The [People's Liberation Army Hong Kong] Garrison said there was a defence need for the existing military sites. Therefore we have not had any follow-up in this regard."

The PLA took over 14 sites with a total area of 2,571 hectares after the city's handover of sovereignty in 1997. The Hong Kong government maintains control over 25 former military sites, comprising 139 hectares.

While central government approval would be needed to use military land held by the PLA, the local government may decide to use the former garrison sites under its own control.

Lam said yesterday that he agreed that it was legitimate for the PLA to use the land for defence purposes and there were still a lot of places that the government could use for new housing.

"I was just raising a sarcastic question to point out that he shouldn't fight with the university for that small site … I didn't expect that he had no sense of humour at all," Lam said.

During the radio show, Chan also gave an assurance that he would not bow to pressure from New Territories indigenous villagers on rural development plans.

On Friday, one Heung Yee Kuk member Leung Wo-ping warned Chan that villagers would "wrestle with the government" over rural land use.