A government drive to use edge-of-town land for housing raises questions about the purpose of green-belt sites, town planners said yesterday as they discussed plans for three such locations.
The Town Planning Board committee members gave initial approval for the use of three green-belt sites in Tuen Mun as part of a wider rezoning plan involving 14 areas in Tuen Mun and six in Kam Tin North. The 20 sites will provide over 15,000 homes.
But while officials argued that the green-belt sites had little conservation value, some committee members said green-belt designation was not about conservation: such land was supposed to be a buffer between town and country. They called on the Planning Department to clarify its rules on the matter.
Committee members allowed the rezoning to go forward yesterday, but the plan will still have to go before the full Town Planning Board after district councils are consulted.
"Green belt was supposed to prevent urban sprawl. Why does the government rezone the [sites] with the excuse that these areas have low conservation value?" asked board member Professor Chau Kwai-cheong. "The value of green belt is its function as a buffer, not its conservation value."
Chau said the government had failed to provide a strong justification for the rezoning.
"The green belt areas will be lost forever once they are rezoned…such loss has a great impact on residents," he added.
Tuen Mun planning officer Lau Wing-seung said the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department had no objections.
"We need to strike a balance when housing demand is pressing and there are no special tree species on those sites," Lau said.
But board member Anita Ma Wing-tseung said: "The rezoning could encourage developers to lower the conservation value of green belt by destroying green sites … It violates the whole concept of building up green belt. Are they not important any more?"
Deputy director of planning Ophelia Wong Yuen-sheung said Tuen Mun would still have 743 hectares of green belt after the rezoning. She said the sites were chosen as they were close to roads and flat, reducing costs.
The push to rezone green-belt sites is part of an aggressive government plan to provide more than 470,000 public and private flats in the next decade to rein in housing prices and ease a shortage of homes. Some 13 such sites have been identified so far.