A former chief secretary has proposed developing part of Lantau South Country Park as a "Parkland City" with nature trails, bicycle tracks and flats, saying some land had been included in country parks without in-depth consultation.
Sir David Akers-Jones' controversial suggestion came two weeks after Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po floated the idea of building flats on country park land.
But Professor Lee Talbot, dubbed the "Father of Hong Kong Country Parks", opposed the idea and urged the government not to opt for an easy way out in its land search.
Akers-Jones, 86, said: "It's only recently that Hong Kong's country parks were enlarged, and land which should have been left for future development was included without overall and in-depth public consultation as to needs for development."
Lantau North Country Park was extended by 2,360 hectares in 2008 as compensation for the loss of ecology when Chek Lap Kok airport was built.
Akers-Jones, who was chief secretary in the mid-1980s, said: "Look at the huge area of Lantau South Country Park where there are virtually no villages or private land to impede change.
"It could be developed as a parkland city planted with an arboretum of native trees and bamboo, nature trails, a Hong Kong orchid garden, bicycle tracks, and housing in an enjoyable environment - something new for Hong Kong."
Akers-Jones, a firm supporter of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, was secretary for the New Territories in the late 1970s.
"To develop a country park, in the way I have described, should not be prohibited. We face very many years of waiting before the so-called development areas will actually yield results and provide housing," Akers-Jones said. "Here is an idea which would not only yield results, but the parkland would be full of excitement and discovery."
He said the flats could be 20 to 30 storeys.
The 5,640-hectare Lantau South Country Park is the largest among the 24 parks.
In Lantau South, village stone paths hundred of years old can still be found. Its peninsula Chi Ma Wan has plantations that support a variety of butterflies and birds. While rare plants flourish on the slopes of Lantau Peak, the island has provided roosting and feeding places for many rare wild animals, including the white-bellied sea eagle.
But Talbot, who laid down the master plan for the country parks in 1965, said the government should have a long-term population plan that takes into account the impact of a rising population on the welfare of residents.
The 83-year-old environmental adviser to the World Bank and United Nations warned of setting an unprecedented case in country parks.
"Experience worldwide shows that once development is allowed to invade parks and protected areas, the process continues and often accelerates. It is like the camel's nose under the tent," he said.
Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying warned Akers-Jones' idea would turn the concept of natural assets belonging to all into "profits for developers and selected private parties".
"People living there would need a car to drive. They won't be ordinary people," Lam said.