28 October 2016
There is a huge social and environmental price tag attached to seizing land for development in our country parks. Photo: HKEJ
There is a huge social and environmental price tag attached to seizing land for development in our country parks. Photo: HKEJ

Let’s stop the invasion of our country parks

Last Saturday at a forum organized by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who is widely tipped as a CE hopeful in the 2017 election, said that in order to maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness, our city needed to have a population of 10 million.

He went on to say that just by trimming the size of our country parks by 5 percent, we would find enough land to accommodate the extra population.

The former colonial government passed the “Country Parks Ordinance” and introduced systematic afforestation across the territory in 1976 in order to preserve our wildland and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as to protect our catchwater drain network so as to guarantee our water supply.

Unfortunately, over the years our country parks have continued to fall victim to the collusion between real estate developers and local landowners, who are turning more and more of our wildland into luxury homes, taking advantage of legal loopholes in the name of land development, at the expense of our ecosystem.

As a consequence, not only are Hong Kong people losing a considerable amount of our woodlands every year, but a lot of endangered plants and insects are also losing their natural habitats.

For example, the big real estate project that has been underway in recent years near Fung Yuen in Tai Po has put over a hundred endangered butterfly species at risk.

It seems our big real estate developers are setting their sights on every inch of land in our country parks to satisfy their voracious appetite.

As a result, bird songs and the humming of insects, once common in the countryside, are being drowned out by the roar of bulldozers and backhoes.

As the greed of big developers swells, sustainability is giving way to profitability, while new shopping malls and luxury homes are invading our countryside and replacing the trees and rocks in our wilderness.

Is that exactly the kind of living environment that the people of Hong Kong are longing for?

As Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah put it in his 2015-16 budget speech, “having developed for more than a century, Hong Kong ranks in the top tier globally for its economic success. However, behind and beyond material fulfillment, the people of this city, our younger generations in particular, are hungering for spiritual contentment”.

He hit the nail on the head. An increasing number of people in this city have begun to look beyond material comforts and search for something more, something that can give them spiritual satisfaction and a sense of cultural and social identity, such as harmony with nature, conservation of cultural heritage, and the creation of a warm and friendly neighborhood.

The 79-day Occupy Movement that took our city by storm last year represented the culmination in the pursuit of higher values among our young people.

It is not difficult to understand that why our country parks always make easy targets for real estate developers.

It is uninhabited and not owned by anybody, whereas redevelopment of village land often entails relocation of villagers, a vast amount of compensation or even endless lawsuits.

However, there is a huge social and environmental price tag attached to the invasion of our country parks, and it may take years before its consequences become clear.

By that time, our next generation is going to pay dearly for what we are doing today.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 26.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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