Hong Kong housing

Plover Cove housing proposal would be risk to Hong Kong water security, government source says

Matter on agenda for Task Force on Land Supply meeting on Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 11:28pm

A proposal to fill in the city’s second largest reservoir to build homes on will prove to be a serious challenge to implement and put Hong Kong’s water security at risk.

That is the government’s view on the controversial idea for Plover Cove Reservoir, floated by real estate academics earlier this year, according to a source close to the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply.

The Post understands the proposal will be on the agenda of the task force’s fifth meeting on Tuesday.

The land search committee, formed in August and made up of various experts and professionals has been tasked with evaluating land supply options and forming public consensus.

While filling Plover Cove Reservoir would create 600 hectares of residential land, the cost of doing so is a 40 per cent reduction in local freshwater storage from 586 million cubic metres to 365 cubic metres according to the source, citing a government paper to be discussed at the meeting.

Hong Kong maintains four to six months’ storage of freshwater in reservoirs in case of any supply disruption from the Dongjiang river, which runs through Guangdong province and accounts for 80 per cent of local needs. Losing Plover Cove would reduce the security buffer to just three to four months and it would undermine the city’s ability to respond if water supply from Dongjiang river has to be suspended, the government says in the paper.

It is understood the government has also highlighted concerns to the task force such as the ecology in the area as well as the semi-enclosed Tolo Harbour’s sensitivity to water pollution. It points out that there are mangroves, sites of special scientific interest, beaches, typhoon shelters and aquaculture sites in the vicinity.

The source said the government believed the plan would pose major technical and environmental complications and would possibly violate guiding principles of its “Hong Kong 2030 Plus” planning strategy and vision to protect areas of high ecological and conservation value.

In any case, the government says such a proposal from planning to site formation would more than 20 years to complete and should only be considered by the task force as a long-term option.

Also on the agenda will be proposals to free up country park land for housing.

The government’s latest assessment is that taking just one per cent of country park land for housing – as some commentators have proposed – would free up 40 hectares of land for 7,500 flats, according to the source.

However, based on the planning time frame of new development areas such as Fanling and Kwu North, the initial planning stage would take about six to seven years to complete and implementation another nine to 11. This means the entire land formation process would take at least 15 to 18 years.

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Dr Cheng Luk-ki of environmental group Green Power said if anything, Hong Kong‘s water security buffer needed to be higher than six months, as the wet season only lasts half a year and local yields from rain essentially only meet 30 per cent of consumption needs.

“Right now we are turning an important water catchment into a water consuming area. This is a double loss,” he added.

He said the government owed green groups an explanation on what exactly they wanted to achieve by opening up country parks for development.

In May, the government invited the Housing Society to study the feasibility of developing the periphery of two Hong Kong country parks for public housing and elderly homes.

It is understood that the society will appoint consultants to conduct the study next March and is expected for completion in mid 2020.