2017-12-07 Why Hong Kong country parks are a poor choice for public housing

By Roger Nissim,  Adjunct Professor, Real Estate & Construction Dept, HKU and current adviser of the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation 

(original text published on SCMP 2017-12-07)

As a member of the Citizens Task Force on Land Supply I was encouraged to see members of the Country and Marine Parks Board question the Housing Societies criteria for choosing the fringes of Tai Lam and Ma on Shan Country Parks for potential housing.

Actually Government chose them before passing them to the Housing Society to evaluate thereby attempting to subvert the whole statutory planning process. Government should have done the evaluation first following the normal planning procedures to ascertain the suitability of the sites for development. But before they start they need to be ensure that, legally, they can excise any part of any Country Park for development when under the Country & Marine Parks Ordinance there is a basic presumption against any development until they have exhausted  ALL the other possible options for creating development land.

These options would include the implementation of the New Development Areas such as Hung Shui Kiu and Kwu Tung North, a review of all Brownfield sites, including the 105 vacant school sites, negotiating with the developers who have hundreds of hectares of redundant agricultural land waiting to be developed and placing such suitable identified land into properly planned layouts so implementation, by resumption if necessary, can take place.

Country Park land is remote usually with poor access and invariably lacking in basic services. So before any such land can be considered for development there should be traffic, drainage/sewage, environmental and visual impact assessments. The maximum plot ratio in these remote locations would be 1, nothing like the normal 5 plot ratio associated with public housing and what is needed to have a real impact on housing supply. Any rational cost benefit analysis would show that these sites represent a very poor choice.

Last month the Planning Department published the new Draft Kam Tin South OZP, Plan No. S/YL-KTS/14 which after a proper three year planning process has zoned sites for private residential development, public housing and the usual supporting facilities but has completely excluded the immediately adjacent parcel of Tai Lam Country Park which has been suggested the Housing Society consider. Clearly the planners have concluded that this land is not suitable for development and should remain as part of the country park so the Housing Society will be simply wasting its time to consider it any further. Governments attempt to subvert the proper planning process has clearly failed.