About 1,000 people joined a protest hike in Tai Tam Country Park yesterday to oppose developing country parks into housing sites after the government floated the idea earlier this month.
Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying was among the hikers at the walk organised by Save Our Country Parks, an alliance of 20 green groups.
Lam warned that if country park land were used to build flats, Hongkongers would face a lack of drinking water.
"Country parks are basically an extension of the reservoirs' water catchment areas," he said. "The water catchment areas are so big because they provide Hongkongers with drinking water … If these areas are used to build houses instead, then Hongkongers can all drink seawater."
Lam's remarks yesterday were a sharp rebuke to Real Estate Developers Association vice-president Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, who on Saturday said maintaining the current ratio of country park land was "impractical and stupid".
"I think Wu has forgotten that humans have to drink water," he said, reiterating that alternatives such as using damaged rural land and the fringes of new towns should be exhausted before considering developing country parks to meet housing demand.
Country parks account for 40 per cent of Hong Kong's land. Property tycoons, including Henderson Land's Lee Shau-kee, have voiced support for using part of that land to satisfy residential needs after development chief Paul Chan Mo-po raised the issue on his blog on September 8.
But the controversial idea drew criticism from many Hongkongers. "There is no valid reason behind the discussion. If the decision to develop country park land is made, it will exploit the rights of our next generations to visit country parks," said hiker Miranda Yip. A South China Morning Post reporter at the march estimated 1,000 people attended.
A Development Bureau spokeswoman did not comment on the event.