Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong environment chief allays fears of developing country parks for housing

Wong Kam-sing says policy to conserve green spaces is in place, following earlier remarks by members of land supply task force

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 10:55pm

Hong Kong’s environment secretary on Saturday played down concerns that the city’s country parks would be developed for housing and said the government had a policy in place to conserve such areas.

Speaking on a radio programme, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing addressed fears sparked by remarks from members of a new land supply task force. He said the administration maintained its policy of supporting the conservation of rural areas, including country parks.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had appointed the 30-strong Task Force on Land Supply last Tuesday, aiming to engage communities in a debate and gain public consensus on how to tackle the city’s housing crunch.

Critics had pointed out that at least five members in the task force had a track record of supporting the development of country parks.

Last week, two members of the group, Stephen Wong Yuen-shan and Lau Chun-kong, had said they could study developing the boundary areas of country parks, raising concerns about encroaching development on the limited green spaces in the city.

“It’s too early to say whether the task force will address country parks, and to what extent ... But we have an established policy to conserve such spaces,” Wong said on Saturday.

Citing the construction of the Tai Lam tunnel and a related highway as examples, Wong said a few hectares of surrounding country park were affected by the development but dozens of hectares were compensated in other areas around the zone.

“In the past five years, we have increased the size of country parks by about 38 hectares. And in the coming years, we are going to establish a new country park at Robin’s Nest near Sha Tau Kok, involving about 500 hectares of land,” Wong said.

Land supply task force signals new government approach to tackling Hong Kong’s housing problem

Speaking on another programme, task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai also addressed concerns. He said the views of members would not override public opinion, as there would be a big consultation.

“If there is a public consensus, it is impossible for the group to openly twist the popular opinion and write it in the report, ” he said.

The group’s first meeting on Wednesday will be spent reviewing the current situation, he added.

Meanwhile Stanley Wong, who is also the Housing Authority’s subsidised housing committee chairman, said demolishing the 50-year-old interim housing at Shek Lei in Kwai Tsing to construct public rental flats was more cost-effective than paying for its maintenance.

The estate is one of two temporary housing areas in Hong Kong serving as a safety net in case of emergencies that may render many homeless, or as an alternative for those needing to vacate their homes due to government clearance operations.

Wong said the maintenance cost for each flat in the estate would be about HK$430,000 to HK$630,000 – almost as expensive as building new and larger public rental flats, which would cost about HK$720,000 each.

Only one third of the 1,900 flats in the Shek Lei estate are occupied. Wong said the residents could be moved to another temporary estate in Po Tin, Tuen Mun, which has about 800 vacant flats.

“Under the constraints, centralising resources [at one interim estate] is probably most in line with the principle of using public money,” Wong said.