Date
16 December 2017
Former Hong Kong Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying (left) says country parks have social functions and benefits, but HKUST's Francis Lui says they are  not cost-effective. Photos: HKEJ
Former Hong Kong Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying (left) says country parks have social functions and benefits, but HKUST's Francis Lui says they are not cost-effective. Photos: HKEJ

Country parks: Is nature tripping costing us a lot?

Should a portion of Hong Kong’s country parks be redeveloped to help solve the city’s housing problem?

Yes, according to one academic, who believes that maintaining country parks at their current size and use is not cost-effective.

But another academic warns against looking at country parks for their economic benefits, saying that they serve a function that is beyond dollars and cents.

Francis Lui, director of the Center for Economic Development at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, started the debate when he asserted, in a commentary published recently in the Sky Post, that each person’s visit to a country park costs Hong Kong at least HK$23,000 (US$2,965.35) every year.

That is so because each Hong Kong resident visits the country parks only 1.75 times a year, based on the city’s population of 7.19 million as of 2013 and a total of 12.57 million visits paid to the parks annually over the past 10 years.

And considering the market value of the land, this “social cost” is too high.

He stressed that it is unwise for the city to pay such a huge price just to allow a person to enjoy 10 hours of mountain hiking each year.

He believes that the area devoted to country parks should be shrunk to secure more land for housing development and help solve the city’s rising home prices and rents.

Cutting the size of country parks by 10 percent would yield much needed land supply for housing development, which in turn could lower home prices and rents by at least 10 percent, he said.

However, Lam Chiu-ying, former director of Hong Kong Observatory, disagrees with Lui’s arguments, noting that not everything is this world could be reduced to their monetary value.

In his personal blog, Lam, who has been strongly opposing the development of country park land for housing, said some people have lost their humanity and spirituality as they look at the world in terms of economic benefits.

He noted that country parks are located in mountainous and watershed areas, and not convenient for housing development.

Their development will only lead to residential communities with low occupation rates or mansions affordable only to the rich, Lam said.

Such a proposal is against the public interest, and will deprive people of their right to enjoy nature, he added.

Lam said Lui only talked about the social costs of country parks but completely ignored their social functions and benefits.

If Lui’s column were submitted as an academic thesis, he said, it would not even merit 50 of the 100 points.

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TL/AC/CG

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