What on earth is CY Leung trying to do with our country parks?

September 18, 2015 16:38
Country parks are Hong Kong's lungs and should be preserved. Even a small change in our greenbelt will upset its delicate biodiversity. Photos: afcd.gov.hk

Think about it.

The government keeps saying there's not enough land for housing development. 

All the while, it has been planning to move on our country parks.

The reason we need to seriously think about this is that we could be seeing swathes of our precious greenbelt overrun with skyscrapers.

But exactly how far along are we toward that dreadful prospect?

It turns out the government has been planning the urbanization of greenbelt areas for years and targeting country parks for development.

It's about to auction a residential site in Tai Wo Ping in Skek Kip Mei district, next to the Lion Rock Country Park.

The winning bidder will get the right to manage 12 hectares of the country park and its neighboring green zone.

On Thursday, university student Kwok Ka-ping applied for a judicial review against the plan, specifically challenging the inclusion of the Lion Rock Country Park in the deal.

Kwok, an environmental policy major at the City University of Hong Kong, wants to stop this nonsense.

He is racing against time to beat Friday's public tender deadline.

Roy Tam, chief executive of environmental group Green Sense who has been helping Kwok, is worried the plan will set an irreversible ecological degradation of our green city.

For a start, the winning developer might start cutting trees to make way for new structures, he says.

Hongkongers are rightly confused and concerned.

Was the government being cagey about its ultimate weapon when it was drawing up its housing policy?

And why the foregone conclusion over the Lion Rock Country Park plan?

Anyone who has seen an overhead photo of Hong Kong will appreciate why our greenbelt areas are important.

They account for more than 80 percent of the land mass but it's not the beauty of our verdant hillsides that underlies the argument for their preservation.

These green areas are our lungs. Small and crowded as it is, Hong Kong has enough air.

But Leung Chun-yin and his government think these areas, including our country parks, are idle land. 

It's ludicrous to insist development will be limited to areas around greenbelt zones and country parks, not within them, because the outcome is the same -- a really bad deal for Hong Kong people.

Leung says the government is merely exploring the possibility of building housing around country parks near urban areas (by the way, it's also looking to turn Lantau Island into a new town). 

But judging by its recent actions, it has already made up its mind.

In the case of Tai Wo Ping, the government assures us no structures will be allowed in the country park and its adjacent areas.

But we can't remember a time when the government wasn't accommodating to property tycoons.

It's possible this is all a trial balloon to defuse public criticism the government is not doing enough to solve the housing crunch, only that it doesn't take a lot to know the idea won't fly.

Granted the plan calls for just 1 percent of our greenfield stock, it's almost like giving someone a match to start a wildfire.

The official argument is that this "little" environmental sacrifice involving 70 greenfield sites will produce 150 hectares of developable land for 80,000 public and private housing units by 2019.

Never mind the cumulative impact on our sensitive biodiversity over the years.

This makes us want to throw up our hands after yet another display of short-sightedness by this government.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the historic Shaw Brothers Studios in Sai Kung is a step closer to being torn down after the Town Planning Board approved its conversion to residential use years earlier.

The Antiquities Advisory Board had given the 50-year-old studios, a 180,000-square-meter movie production facility, Grade I historical site status.

But that status won't prevent the demolition of the heritage site. That's another one for the loss column.

Hong Kong does not lack sites for housing development; the government lacks ideas.

For instance, has it given enough thought to those decrepit, old residential buildings in urban areas for redevelopment?

How about plugging the loopholes in its land policy to discourage and punish land hoarding?

Then again, it's tougher to deal with property developers than environmentalists and heritage activists.

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EJ Insight writer