23 February 2019
One of the areas that CY Leung wants to be studied for public housing development is Tai Lam (in red circle), which is at the edge of a country park. Photos: CNSA, Google Map
One of the areas that CY Leung wants to be studied for public housing development is Tai Lam (in red circle), which is at the edge of a country park. Photos: CNSA, Google Map

Govt push for public housing near country parks draws flak

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who will step down on July 1, is pursuing his controversial plan to develop residential estates on the fringes of country parks, drawing criticisms from lawmakers and environment protection groups.

The outgoing leader has commissioned the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) to conduct a feasibility study on the development of public housing sites in Tai Lam near the Tai Lam Country Park and Shui Chuen O, which is close to the Ma On Shan Country Park, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In his last policy address in January, Leung said: “We should also consider allocating a small proportion of land on the periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value for purposes other than real estate development, such as public housing and non-profit-making elderly homes.”

Despite concerns raised by environmental protection groups over the plan, the government announced on Wednesday that it has invited the Housing Society to undertake technical and ecological studies on the two areas, including ecological value, landscape and aesthetic values, recreational potential, development potential and practical constraints.

Wong Kit-loong, chief executive of the non-governmental organization, said his group has accepted the task, adding that the plan to provide more housing to the poor and the elderly is “a good thing”.

According to the HKHS, the two sites that will be studied cover an area of about 20 hectares each, and have infrastructure, such as traffic networks, in place.

The feasibility study will cost more than HK$10 million and take about 18 months to complete.

The Society will first conduct on-site research, which is estimated to take three months, before hiring a consulting firm to conduct detailed analysis of soil quality, ecological value, seasonal changes and environmental impact.

Wong said the report will be given to the Environment Bureau, Development Bureau and Transport and Housing Bureau, leaving the government to make the final decision.

As planning procedures and public consultations will not happen unless the government decides to proceed with the development of these sites, the HKHS said people should not politicize the study.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Leung said he has informed his successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor about his move to commission the study.

Critics, however, believe that Leung should not push for any land policy as he will leave office soon, especially after Lam had promised to form a task force to review land supply sources as part of her election campaign platform.

Moreover, the Legislative Council was not informed about the commissioning of the study.

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said Leung’s move made people feel that the outgoing administration is trying to do it by force.

Independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick accused the government of intentionally bypassing the Legco by commissioning the HKHS to conduct the study.

However, lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung from the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong said the study is worth doing and should be supported by everyone.

Peter Lee Siu-man, campaign manager of the environmental protection group Conservancy Association, said developing land at or near country parks will inevitably lead to massive tree cutting, which is against the conservation principle set by the government itself.

The plan will also have a domino effect as more country parks will be developed for residential use in the future, Lee added.

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