About 60 per cent of the green-belt sites identified by the government for rezoning to build flats are covered by trees, a green group says, despite the administration's claim that the sites are "devegetated".
The government plans to convert about 50 plots of green-belt land - sites left vacant to mark the boundary between the city and the countryside - as part of a huge drive to build 470,000 public and private flats in the next decade.
But environmental campaign group Green Sense says its research has shown that at least 30 of the sites identified - including land in Tai Po, Southern District and Tuen Mun - are "full of trees" despite government claims that the sites chosen are "devegetated" or "deserted".
It says rezoning could lead to the felling of many hectares of trees and has vowed to fight the plan. It urged the government to scrap the rezoning, proposed in January by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address.
"I would say there are forests," Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong said of the sites earmarked for homes. "The Leung administration has been economical with the truth when it says that the plan is to develop devegetated sites.
"The government likes to make use of the excuse that Hong Kong faces a serious housing shortage and even green land and forests must be flattened to build flats," Tam added. "We have no problem at all if the sites are really devegetated. But obviously they are not."
Watch: Rezoning of Tai Po green belt site causes controversy among residents
Some residents of the upmarket Tycoon Place and Richwood Park developments in Tai Po and of Dynasty Heights in Sham Shui Po are also up in arms at plans to build on green-belt land close to their homes. They will rally outside government headquarters in Admiralty today.
Dr Edward Yiu Chung-yim, an associate professor of geography and resource management at Chinese University, said the plan could backfire on the government's housing aspirations, leaving it to "stew in its own juices".
"Such rezoning … will unavoidably affect the nearby environment, and thus land price," Yiu said. "If the government keeps rezoning green land to build flats, the developers will become more cautious in bidding for land. At the end of the day, if no one bids for land, there will not be any supply [of homes]."
He cited the government's decision to withdraw from sale a site in Pak Shek Kok, Tai Po, in March after the seven bids it received failed to match its reserve price. A green site 800 metres away was earmarked for housing.
The government plans to rezone 152 sites in 16 districts from green belt, community, government and industrial use to offer 210,000 public and private flats as it bids to rein in prices and cut the wait for subsidised homes.
The Development Bureau said last night that the review of zoning was focused "mainly on those sites that are located on the fringe of developed land and … with a relatively lower conservation value". It added that it was "natural to consider developing sites in the fringe of existing built-up areas … on the premise of not affecting country parks and … conservation sites".