Benefits of Development
Country parks, with social and ecological values, are precious asset of Hong Kong as a city with good liveability. In his 2017 Policy Address, the then Chief Executive stated that, while increasing the total area of ecological conservation sites and country parks and enhancing their recreational and educational value, the community should also consider allocating a small portion 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.
The Government does not have a comprehensive database on the ecological status of each and every country park. There is also no precise information on how much land in country parks has relatively low public enjoyment value. As such, there is no estimate of potentially developable land area or estimate of housing units that could be built on their periphery. Arithmetically (and purely for illustration purpose), 0.1% of the country park area would be equivalent to over 40 ha of land. Based on the estimated flat yield for the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North NDAs, 0.1% of country park area might yield some 7,500 flats.
Similar ideas were floated in 2015, when commentators suggested releasing certain areas on the periphery of Tai Lam Country Park close to the Tai Lam Tunnel toll plaza for housing development. It was said that about 60 ha of platform area could be formed to provide homes for about 90,000 residents. Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) is conducting ecological and technical studies on developing the periphery of country parks. The studies will mainly look into the two pilot areas' ecological, landscape and aesthetic value; recreational and development potential; and the major technical factors and constraints of developing public housing and other public facilities thereon.
- In May 2017, the last-term Government invited HKHS to undertake ecological and technical studies on land on the periphery of country parks. The purpose is facilitate rational deliberations by the community about the possibility of allocating a small portion of land on the periphery of the 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.
- The scope of studies would cover two pilot areas in Tai Lam and Shui Chuen O (each covering an area of approximately 20 ha). These areas are on the periphery of Tai Lam and Ma On Shan Country Parks respectively.
Costs of Development
Developing any part of the country parks for housing purposes is not compatible with the existing uses of country parks and is against the objectives of having country parks in the first place. If the integrity of country parks is affected, its ecological and public enjoyment value may be undermined. If handled improperly, irreversible changes will be made to the natural ecology, landscape and recreational potential.
Regardless of the size of the proposed developments in country parks, there is a need to carry out environmental studies, including ecological assessments, for any proposal to develop country parks as the starting point to confirm if the site concerned is suitable for development. If there is a need to revise the boundary of country parks, it must be subject to the statutory procedures as stipulated in the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap. 208) and Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (Cap. 499), including consulting the Country and Marine Parks Board and the Advisory Council on the Environment and seeking necessary consent from the Country and Marine Parks Authority before implementation.
The corresponding site formation, infrastructure and building works within country parks would be subject to the endorsement of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before commencement of construction. Detailed ecological surveys covering seasonal variations would be required as part of the statutory EIAs so as to ascertain whether each proposal is acceptable from nature conservation and ecological perspectives. The whole ecological survey might take at least 12 to 18 months (covering both dry and wet seasons). In addition to the requirements under the statutory EIA, any possible impact on the existing recreation facilities and associated potential, hence the public enjoyment value of the relevant sites, should also be thoroughly assessed in support of the proposal.
Development on the periphery of country parks, if confirmed, would involve the costs of land formation and providing infrastructural facilities such as roads, drainage, sewage and flood control measures. The proposed land use would also be subject to relevant statutory procedure according to the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131).
From the engineering perspective, in considering the scope of country parks for development, important considerations include:
the impact on existing infrastructure (including sewerage, drainage, water supply, and transport networks);
geotechnical concerns (including site formation in hilly terrain and prevention of natural terrain hazards);
potential impact on existing water catchments/ diversion channels and major above-ground or underground utilities (such as underground water tunnels and overhead transmission lines).
Challenges and Uncertainties
Land resumption or the relocation of existing households or facilities will normally not be necessary when developing country park sites. However, before the commencement of actual construction works such as enhancement of infrastructure and site formation, sufficient time would be required for the Government to conduct comprehensive planning and engineering feasibility studies; undertake several stages of public engagement to solicit the views of stakeholders; and make technical assessments, including traffic and visual impact assessments. In addition, time would be needed to complete the necessary statutory and other processes related to country parks, environmental impact, town planning and infrastructure, as well as funding applications to the LegCo. Even if the development plan is confirmed, it will likely take no less than 10 years for the planning and land development processes. As such, this option can only be a source of land supply in the long term.
The suggestion of developing the periphery of country parks has triggered debates amongst different stakeholders in the community. There have been suggestions that the Government should first use land with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value as a source of land supply. Some have suggested a compensation mechanism to make up for any loss of country park areas and facilities so as to strike a right balance between development and conservation. Meanwhile, some are opposed to any form of development in country parks.
- Whether to develop the periphery of certain country parks with low ecological and public enjoyment value for public housing and other public uses will hinge on a number of detailed studies and assessments on ecology, environment, development feasibility and development potential. At this stage, the community should discuss whether or not developing part of the country park land to increase land supply is an issue worth exploring and what factors should be considered during the process.
- In considering whether to change any part of the country parks to serve as a possible source of land supply, the community should prudently strike a balance between the needs of development and conservation.
- Even if developing part of the land of country parks is eventually considered to be one of the acceptable land supply options, relevant statutory requirements must be fully complied with prior to proceeding with development, including relevant legislations on country parks, town planning, environmental impact and infrastructure provisions. The Government will also need to consult relevant committees and other stakeholders. Hence, this can only be considered a land supply option for the long term.