The development minister was just testing the water and forcing Hongkongers to think about realistic ways to boost land supply when he floated the idea of building flats on country park land, according to a person familiar with the government's position.
They said Paul Chan Mo-po's controversial suggestion was a "political gesture" to show the administration - under fire for failing to resolve a long-standing land-supply problem - was trying its best to address the issue.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Development Bureau said yesterday that in quoting opinions expressed by some participants in seminars, Chan was merely sharing these views.
"Those views do not represent the government's stance," the spokesman said.
The clarification of Chan's intentions came as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying maintained the government had not changed its policies on country parks.
Chan wrote on his blog on Sunday that society should discuss and explore the possibility of developing country parks - an idea he said had recently been raised in seminars - as more land would be needed to reach the target of building 470,000 flats in the next 10 years.
"During the exchange, someone mentioned that 70 per cent of Hong Kong's land is country parks, [and] in face of a shortage of land supply and a big housing demand ... can they not be developed at all?"
Chan's remarks were a radical departure from Leung's pledge when he was running for election as chief executive that country parks "should be protected from development as far as possible", a view he confirmed in an interview with the Post almost two years ago.
In an article in Ming Pao in 2009, Leung wrote that most grass-roots people did not have time to visit country parks and questioned what further expansion of parks meant for them.
The person familiar with the government's position admitted that it was difficult to change policy on country parks, which are designated by law for the purposes of nature conservation, countryside recreation and outdoor education.
"The development minister just pointed out the worst scenario in the hope of forcing the public to think hard about realistic, or less desirable, options for increasing land supply."
Yesterday, the Development Bureau also clarified that only about 40 per cent of the land area is covered by country parks.
Friends of the Earth general-affairs director Edwin Lau Che-feng said building flats in country parks was not a realistic option. "The government should not attempt to encroach on country parks," he said.