Thursday, 18 May 2017

Contentious Plan for Country Park Housing

Can you imagine housing blocks near here in Tai Lam Country Park?
The Hong Kong government has announced that the not-for-profit Housing Society will conduct an 18-month study in the feasibility of building public flats and homes for the elderly on two 20-hectare sites on the edges of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks.

It's a controversial move, following the proposal made by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address in January, and now the first steps are being taken two months before he leaves office.

"We are not saying we are going to build flats in country parks now," says Housing Society CEO Wong Kit-loong. "But the study will facilitate public discussion. We hope to also understand why people disagree [with the proposal]."

This is an interesting development -- the government is getting someone else to do the study, so that it doesn't get the blame in case the study concludes building housing on protected country park land is a good idea.

Or how about here at Ma On Shan Country Park?
Some lawmakers and conservationists are opposed to it, saying there is no public consensus on the matter and it may set a bad precedent.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong of activist group Green Sense says "pitting environmental conservation against the public's need for housing" was "deplorable and unfair".

According to the Planning Department, country parks make up 41 percent of Hong Kong's land area, while residential land use was only 7 percent.

Wong seems to hint the housing proposal would be a good idea, saying the total size of designated country park land had increased by 6 percent over the past few years to 43,000 hectares.

How could country park land grow, unless someone donated land back, or some rezoning has taken place?

"Hong Kong is still short of 200 hectares for building public flats, according to [the planning strategy beyond 2030]... The queue for building public flats is getting longer. The problem is immediate," he says.

One of many brownfield sites (front) that can be redeveloped
Thousands of families currently have to wait an average of four years and seven months for a public rental flat, according to the Housing Authority.

Seniors must wait about two years and seven months for housing, as there are 275,900 applications.

But why build housing for the elderly out in the boonies?

Then public infrastructure projects also need to be built to connect them to civilization. Oh wait -- is this a make-work project?

Why not, as we have pointed out time and time again, there are so many brown sites around Hong Kong that could be redeveloped -- and many are near transport links already. Why not work on these areas first?

Or is it because the government wants to distract us from New Territories so-called "indigenous villagers" who have occupied government land and refuse to give it back so the government would rather encroach on virgin land than try to reclaim what is essentially taxpayer land?

In these times we need to be more sustainable and practical. Developing the edge of what is supposed to be protected land with the blessing of the government is so bizarre and hypocritical.

Whatever happened to Hong Kong finding creative solutions? This is not one of them.

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