Developing country park – from absurdity to reality
Hong Kongers have long been indoctrinated with the idea of “Hong Kong is a place with huge population but scarce land”. Text books say that in order to accommodate more people, we have no other options but to reclaim more land. If you live and work in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, you would surely experience this “fact”: Mong Kok is filled with tourists every weekend, one will surely be “run over” by suitcases when passing through Hung Hom MTR station and the bridge near the Cross Harbour Tunnel, and one will never see the sky in Causeway Bay…
The property prices have been surging in recent years, Hong Kong’s carrying capacity is close to saturation (Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said in a population policy consultation in October that there is no limit in Hong Kong’s population). Our government and their loyal supporters are skillful in framing the society’s emotion by using property prices and the feeling of suffocation as excuses, but in the end establish policies that completely contradict the needs of the citizens regardless of how faulty their logic is: for example, the recent proposal of developing country parks, which essentially suggests that housing development and country park preservation are mutually exclusive.
Country parks are valuable to the public as there is real needs for them, much more valuable than what CY Leung and his loyal supporters estimate. On top of the hiking events (e.g. Oxfarm Trail Walker), country parks also offer the citizens a free outdoor recreational space. According to the estimate by Country and Marine Parks Authority, the country parks that CY Leung and his government think are desolate, a total of 12,914,200 people have visited them in 2013.
Lantau Country Park (North and South), for example, where the government proposed a plan to build housing recently, a total of 847,100 people visited it in a year. Big Way Bay East, which drew a lot of public attention, coupled with Sai Kung East and West saw 1,887,800 people in a year. One would certainly wonder why the government would stress on the need for housing but completely ignored the people’s need for country parks.
We can imagine, the huge loss to the public if houses are allowed to be built in part of our country parks. The long term prospective is even more frightening: once the precedent is sent, more will follow suit.
In the late 80s, 65% of the dragon fly species could be found in Sha Lo Tung, Tai Po. The landlords proposed to build a golf course (partly located in Pat Sin Leng Country Park). The proposal was approved by the Town Planning Council (the decision was overthrown by a judicial review filed by environmental groups). However, Leung’s government cited this as a precedent of “developing country parks”. If one day, a part of our country parks is in fact being developed, setting a real precedent, similar cases will continue to arise. The government keeps saying that developing 2.5% of our country parks “is nothing”, and soon we will hear similar words, only percent will be changed: 10%? Or even 20%?
Lau Ping-cheung, a member of the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, supports the government to propose different ideas for increasing housing supply for the public to discuss, including building houses in country parks. Lau said that the more the public discuss, the better it would be.
Most certainly that more discussions is a positive thing to Hong Kong’s housing strategy, but the so-called “discussions” are essentially PR stunt with set prerequisite, solution and fixed stance. Are the “discussions” based on sufficient facts or based on the agenda set by Paul Chan Mo-po, property developers, Michael Choi Ngai-min and Lau Ping-cheung (individuals within the government and pro-CY Leung).
Without well thought-through land and population policies and estimations, developments in country parks and greenbelt zones can be unlimited. This could result in over-development, which only benefits the developers but harms the scarce assets shared by the public.
As the saying goes, “repeat a lie a thousand times, it becomes the truth”, and in Hong Kong, surveyors and accountants who do not understand town planning repeat an absurd theory a thousand times, it will become the reality you and I have to face.
Brian Wong (黃肇鴻)
Member of Liber Research Community (本土研究社成員)
11 February 2014
The above article was published in The Real Hong Kong News on 28 February 2014.