The special administrative region government on Wednesday announced that it had commissioned the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) to study the feasibility of limited residential housing development on the edges of country parks. The idea is understandable as Hong Kong is running out of useable land for both public and private housing development. However, voices of opposition are just as commonplace as the demand for more affordable housing, given the growing support for nature conservation and bio-diversity here. That is why the government is merely trying to find out if small-scale housing development in selected fringe areas of country parks, which does not significantly affect the eco-system, is indeed possible.
Country parks occupy a whopping 41 percent of Hong Kong’s total land area. And some of them are local residents’ favorite spots to unwind, relax and enjoy nature. In dire contrast to this picture, is the sad reality that the urban districts just a few kilometers away are the most densely populated in the world today, where some poor families live in tiny spaces often filled with all kinds of safety and health hazards. Apparently country parks are protected by law in Hong Kong and no one can touch them without amending the law first. Then again, nobody in their right minds can fault outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for making residential housing development a top priority of his final year in office, either.
The “controversial” feasibility study by the HKHS on residential development on the edges of country parks is an example of leaving no stone unturned to find usable land for subsidized housing development. Some people immediately whipped out the word “controversial” when they heard the news, even though the government said specifically it will only look at the periphery of country parks, not inside them. Such overreaction can be deemed unreasonable and even insensitive to those people in need. After all, many people would agree that the need to alleviate the negative impact of housing shortages on Hong Kong society is just as pressing, if not more so, as maintaining those country parks.
Another objection in response to the “controversial” study is that the government should have commissioned the Housing Authority instead of the HKHS, which will fund the HK$10 million study with its own resources. It was probably based on the fact that the Housing Authority is a government advisory body, whereas the HKHS is a non-profit organization. Ironically that is precisely why objections missed the point: The study is a hypothetical assessment of building housing property on the fringes of existing country parks, including the ecological value of those areas and how much their environmental and recreational value might be affected by residential apartments, with no bearing on actual development projects. Besides, the considerable cost will have to be covered with taxpayers’ money if the Housing Authority does the study.