Why Hong Kong country parks are a poor choice for public housing
As a member of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, I was encouraged to see members of the Country and Marine Parks Board question the Housing Society’s criteria for choosing the fringes of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks for potential housing development.
However, the government should have done the evaluation first, following normal planning procedures, to ascertain the suitability of the sites for development.
But before they start they need to ensure that, legally, they can excise any part of any country park for development when, under the Country and Marine Parks ordinances, there is a basic presumption against any development until all other possible options for creating land for development have been exhausted.
These options would include the implementation of the New Development Areas such as Hung Shui Kiu and Kwu Tung North, a review of all brownfield sites, including the 105 vacant school sites, negotiating with the developers who have hundreds of hectares of redundant agricultural land waiting to be developed and placing such suitable identified land into properly planned layouts so that implementation, by resumption if necessary, can take place.
Country park land is usually remote, with poor access and invariably lacking in basic services.
So, before any such land can be considered for development there should be traffic, drainage and sewage, environmental and visual impact assessments. The maximum plot ratio in these remote locations would be one, nothing like the normal plot ratio of five associated with public housing – and what is needed in order to have a real impact on housing supply.
Any rational cost-benefit analysis would show that these sites represent a very poor choice.
Last month, the Planning Department published its new draft Kam Tin South outline zoning plan which, after a proper three-year planning process, has zoned sites for private residential development, public housing and the usual supporting facilities, but has completely excluded the immediately adjacent parcel of Tai Lam Country Park, which has been suggested for the Housing Society to consider.
Clearly the planners have concluded that this land is not suitable for development and should remain as part of the country park, so the Housing Society would be simply wasting its time to consider it any further.
Roger Nissim, adjunct professor, Real Estate & Construction Department, University of Hong Kong