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Hong Kong housing

Leung Chun-ying pushes ahead with plan for public flats in country parks

Meanwhile, the target of 75,000 new public flats was not ‘pragmatic’, housing minister admits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:40pm

Hong Kong’s outgoing leader ­revealed on Tuesday that he was moving ahead with controversial plans to develop protected country park land for housing and had already instructed government departments concerned to carry out a preliminary study.

The revelation came as the city’s housing minister admitted that the administration’s target of building 75,000 public housing flats within its five-year term could not be met because it was “not quite pragmatic”.

Heading into his weekly cabinet meeting, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he had ­decided to commission a feasibility study to “identify possible sites for non-profit-making use at the periphery of country parks with lower ecological value” in ­response to public calls for more details after he floated the idea in his final policy address last week.

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“With this preliminary study, we will present as soon as possible the possible sites,” Leung said.

He has proposed that in ­exchange for building public flats and non-profit homes for the elderly on protected sites, the government will designate more areas of high conservation value in country parks.

At a Legislative Council meeting on Tuesday, acting development minister Eric Ma Siu-cheung said although the government had not started any work on the proposal, it would “actively follow up” on it.

Former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping said it was unlikely that the study could be completed within Leung’s remaining five months in office.

The next government did not need to follow the same plan, he added.

Wong said the next government would still face the same problems in finding land for housing development, but country parks should not be the answer.

Instead, he urged the government to prioritise developing some 1,200 hectares of brownfield sites or large swathes land leased cheaply to private clubs, such as the 170-hectare golf course in Fanling occupied by the Hong Kong Golf Club.

Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying, an outspoken opponent of developing green sites for housing, said he was willing to discuss Leung’s plan if the government would promise to increase the total area of country parks.

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The government has only built about 51,000 public housing flats since Leung took over in 2012 – far below the five-year target of 75,000.

On a radio show on Tuesday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who will not be joining the next government, said the current administration would not be able to meet the target.

“This is because from the beginning, the target was not quite pragmatic when it was announced,” Cheung said, although he noted that Leung’s government had done more for housing than the previous administration.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung