Hong Kong housing

Residents divided over using parks for Hong Kong housing: Greenpeace survey

Slightly more than 50 per cent of 1,008 surveyed indicate they are against developing perimeters of parks to help solve the city’s land supply shortage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 8:21pm

Hongkongers are split over whether the fringes of the city’s country parks should be developed to free up land for housing, although a majority believed the parks should be protected, according to a survey.

Environmental group Greenpeace commissioned the Survey and Research Centre under Shue Yan University’s department of journalism and communications to conduct a telephone poll on how Hong Kong residents viewed country parks and whether they agreed there was a need to develop their fringes to boost land supply.

Of the 1,008 people polled in April and May, 50.1 per cent “had doubts over” developing the fringes of country parks to increase land supply or thought the idea “unacceptable”. Some 42 per cent felt that it was “acceptable” or was “worth considering”. The rest lacked strong convictions on the issue.

An average score of 8 out of 10 – 10 being “very important” – was given when asked how important it was that country parks were kept free from being damaged by development.

Campaigner for Greenpeace Andy Chu Kong said the results showed there was no consensus on the idea.

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“The answer is quite clear. Hong Kong people believe that country parks have ecological and social value. It’s not just green groups that are saying we should protect country parks,” Chu said.

“There however is no clear indication, or any basis of public opinion, on whether it should be developed or not.”

In space-starved Hong Kong, protected country parks make up about 40 per cent of the city, while 7 per cent is used for housing.

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying proposed last year that Hong Kong should use protected country park land with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value for public housing and homes for the elderly.

An 18-month study, carried out by the non-profit Housing Society, is currently underway to see whether the proposal would be feasible on two 20-hectare sites on the edges of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks.

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The idea is also one of 18 land options being put forward in a five-month public consultation on how best to address a 1,200 hectare (3,000 acre) shortage for Hong Kong’s housing and economy needs for the next three decades.

Of those who supported the notion of building on the edges of country parks, many said that it was because “Hong Kong lacked land” and that it should be used to “satisfy housing needs”.

Among people against it, most said it would “set a bad precedent” and that “there was no turning back once the natural environment was damaged”.

Chu criticised the government for asking residents to consider country parks in the current ongoing public consultation survey as if it was “some wish list or dim sum menu” to plug a shortage of 1,200 hectares.

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“It is misleading to the public to let them think that it is important to choose these options, so it can help solve the housing needs for grass roots and those living in subdivided flats,” Chu said.

“Even if country parks were to be developed, it would take at least 15 to 20 years, how can it be seen as a solution to those now living in subdivided flats?”

Chu said the land supply controversy, dubbed the “big debate” by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, should first focus on establishing principles and values, such as whether the public agreed with developing natural land resources, before proposing individual options on where and how to source land.

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In a separate survey conducted by Momentum 107, a concern group advocating government fiscal prudence, almost 60 per cent of 1,026 people polled last July backed the idea to develop the outskirts of country parks that are of low ecological value. Some 40 per cent believed that country parks should remain protected as is.

Out of the 18 land supply options, the Federation of Public Housing Estates, which represents its residents, has said earlier that the government should first consider reclaiming land from outside Victoria Harbour, then the edges of country parks, and lastly to build on brownfield sites. The group said that this was to ensure enough land could be produced to meet the predicted shortfall of 43,000 public flats by 2027.