The Hong Kong government has come under fire for pushing for a controversial proposal to develop the periphery of two country parks.
“There are many other sites that could be developed, but the government insists on developing country parks in the guise of helping the elderly population and public housing applicants – this is totally unacceptable,” said Mak Chi-kit of environmental NGO Green Sense.
The government announced Wednesday that it has invited the not-for-profit Housing Society to study the feasibility of building affordable homes at two 20-hectare sites on the outskirts of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan Country Parks.
The Society is a close partner of the government in providing a range of housing services, such as subsidised homes. The government said it will provide the organisation with information for compiling “objective analyses” that will allow for “rational deliberations” in society.
The Society’s CEO Wong Kit-loong said it seeks to appoint consultants for the study within three months and produce a report in 18 months.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he had discussed the plan with incoming leader Carrie Lam.
“We know that land in Hong Kong is very scarce, and many people are waiting for public housing. I have already said this in my policy address: only public houses and homes for the elderly may be built on areas of country parks with low ecological value,” Leung said.
He added that the proposal is at its preliminary stage and will have to meet all legal procedural requirements before being implemented.
Critics questioned Leung’s attempt to bypass the legislature in involving the Housing Society.
“This is another instance of the government trying to bypass the legislature and use its peripheral organisation to push for plans that are not welcomed by the public,” pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu said.
“We can expect to see increasing involvement of peripheral organisations such as the Jockey Club and Science Park in helping the government implement policies. Meanwhile, the role of the legislature in monitoring and approving public funds will be seriously weakened.”
He added that the proper response should be to understand why some pieces of land are low in ecological value. “Is it because of hill fires, for example? If so, the authorities should think of ways of improving their ecological value, rather than developing them,” he said.
In response, Leung said: “We should value the role of the Housing Society.”
Meanwhile, Mak of Green Sense slammed the government for “foolishly” ignoring public opinion. He said the government should first tackle population issues before taking aim at country parks, which he said are valuable assets of the city.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan said the government has many alternatives, including around 1,200 hectares of brownfield. He criticised Leung for tabling the proposal without consulting the public, creating an impression that the authorities are determined to develop country parks and that Carrie Lam will not be able to halt the plans.
Leung has expressed a desire to build houses in country parks on several occasions. In his policy address released in January, Leung cited the interests of future generations in proposing developing land in country parks.
He also rejected suggestions of redeveloping a golf course and a chief executive lodge in Fanling for housing as an alternative, saying that the sites have decades-old trees and that Hong Kong has laws protecting them.