The former director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) Wong Fook-yee has criticised the government for “singling out” country parks for development proposals.
“Besides country parks, the government should look into the feasibility of developing brownfield sites, private land and other types of land in order to best utilise resources. It should not single out country parks in its plans,” Wong, now a geography professor at the Chinese University, said on a Commercial Radio show on Friday.
The remarks came after the government announced last Wednesday that it had invited the not-for-profit Housing Society to study the feasibility of building affordable homes on the outskirts of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan Country Parks.
The proposal attracted heavy criticism from environmentalists. Wong also weighed in on the debate: “The research body is an organisation tasked with building houses. Bodies tasked with building houses typically tend to steer their research in the direction aligned with their missions.
“But for now, let’s wait for the research report,” he added.
Leung has expressed his desire to develop land in country parks on several occasions. Citing the needs of future generations, Leung said in his policy address this year that there is a need to develop the “periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value.”
But Wong said the concept of “periphery with low ecological value” does not exist in the Country Parks Ordinance.
“A piece of land is either within the boundary of country parks, or outside it. There is no such thing as a periphery,” he said.
“We should look at country parks as a whole, rather than trying to divide a country park into ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’ sites. Because if you take out parts that you consider unimportant [the periphery], there will always be another peripheral site.”
He added that it is not practical to evaluate the ecological value of different sections within a country park, because wildlife and vegetation are not confined to only one location.
Wong warned that it would set a “very bad precedent” if the government presses ahead to build houses on the fringes of country parks, as it would go against the intention of establishing country parks.
The Housing Society is a close partner of the government in providing a range of housing services, such as subsidised homes. It said last week that it aims to produce a report in 18 months.
Critics have questioned Leung’s attempt to bypass the legislature in involving the Housing Society. Others slammed the government for ignoring public opposition against developing country parks.
Twelve environmental groups are hosting a hiking event in Tai Lam Country Park on Sunday, in protest against the government’s proposal.