Face Off: Should country parks be used for housing?

Compiled by Ben Pang

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week …

Compiled by Ben Pang |

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Henry Lui, 16, Sha Tin College

The housing problem is the result of age-old government policies: expensive land and low tax.

Basically, land supply is kept as low as possible, so the government can reap huge profits when it sells the land to property developers, reducing their reliance on taxpayers to generate revenue.

Though this may have worked back in the 1990s, it is clearly not working now. The most recent round of public housing sales saw 135,000 people apply for a measly 2,160 units. Saying that there is a mere demand-supply imbalance, as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah did, is taking a serious issue lightly.

At present, legally protected country parks make up more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong's territory. So releasing some of this land back into the market would help a lot.

The Our Hong Kong Foundation think tank stated in a November report that the current reclamation proposals and the development of New Territories North would be "insufficient". These would only be able to produce 5,000 hectares of livable space - 4,000 hectares short of the government target.

Not only are the proposals not capable of meeting our needs, they're also not very practical. Reclaiming land would be extremely costly and could cause a considerable amount of harm to the environment.

Brownfield sites - such as open car parks, storage depots and recycling yards - are few and far between, and do not offer enough space for proper housing projects to be built. They are also often located in areas that are almost unsuitable for living. Tearing up old villages to make way for new high-rises? Don't even think about it.

Building on the outskirts of country parks seems to be the most cost-effective and realistic solution to this never-ending housing crisis.

Hongkongers have always remained highly sympathetic to those in need, and have always chosen to help others.

With more than 100,000 families still living in "slums" lacking basic facilities (for example, clean water supply and toilets), it's time we offer them a hand and do what we have to do to grant them a safe living environment.

Cedric Li, 16, Sha Tin College

The proposed development of country parks raised a public outcry recently. On the one hand, there is Hong Kong's growing housing problem, and on the other, there are calls to save Hong Kong's dwindling natural environment.

Though we have a serious housing problem, I believe that it should not be solved at the cost of our country parks.

As a bit of a romantic, the pull of nature has always been strong for me. As a child, I grew up with weekly hikes in the mountains behind my housing complex. Some of my fondest memories are trips out in the country parks with friends.

The reality is that people need to be able to slow down and get away from the city's pollution and fast-paced lifestyle for at least a few hours every week. What better place can there be to do that than in Hong Kong's country parks? Housing projects will simply ruin them.

Instead of developing protected land, the government should use brownfield sites. For example, large areas in Kowloon are badly maintained, and may even pose safety and pollution hazards. Those buildings could be torn down and replaced by brand-new housing units. It would improve Hong Kong's image, solve the city's housing problem, and protect the countryside. That's killing three birds, not two, with one stone!

As the saying goes: "Once nature is gone, it's gone for good." Before we decide to develop our country parks, perhaps we should first consider whether it is worth the price we'll have to pay. Besides, where would we get those idyllic Instagram photos if all the country parks are gone?