My Take

Let's look into 'brownfield' development in Hong Kong before plowing into greenbelts and country parks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2015, 9:15am

It's puzzling why Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is so keen on going after country parks for development. It's not like there are no other options. But every six months or so, he brings up the topic and then controversy ensures.

The latest has to do with a proposal from Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank founded by Leung's predecessor Tung Chee-hwa. It suggests a review of the ecological and practical value of all country parks, and integrating the findings in a comprehensive housing strategy.

READ MORE: Build homes on 'low eco value' Hong Kong parks, suggests Chief Executive CY Leung

Unlike many people, I certainly don't think country parks are sacrosanct. On the other hand, there are clear legal provisions for their protection, so any development cannot be carried out simply as an administrative measure.

We have 24 parks under the Country Parks Ordinance. This law provides the authority to "encourage their use and development for purposes of recreation and tourism", "protect the vegetation and wildlife", and "preserve and maintain building sites of historic and cultural significance". The law explicitly states "[a] presumption against any new development".

Lower on the totem pole are so-called greenbelts. Sites are so designated to help conserve "existing natural environment … at the urban fringe, to safeguard it from encroachment by urban-type development, and to provide additional outlets for passive recreational activities".

Again, there is a presumption against development, but the constraints are not as strong as those for country parks.

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Hong Kong's land is 40 per cent parkland and about 14 per cent greenbelts. The less ecologically sensitive greenbelts may be developed before others.

In his public statements, Leung usually fudges parkland and greenbelts, so it's hard to know if he is talking about one or the other or both.

But before we do anything, let's start with "brownfield" sites, those zoned for industrial or commercial use but now mainly used for storage, car repairs or cargo-holding. They amount to an estimated 1,600 hectares. Let's develop the "brownfields" before we even talk about greenbelts and parks.

Meanwhile, more than 930 hectares are currently reserved for indigenous villagers to build single houses. Well, how about building public housing on them instead?