The Leung government is going about its country park housing plan in exactly the wrong way.
It has already identified two sites and has hired a property developer with no known environmental expertise to evaluate them.
What are the chances that the Housing Society will conclude that the Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks are in fact unsuitable for development?
It’s a short-term salami-slicing approach with easy-to-predict consequences: after green-lighting those two sites, other locations will be found for ‘evaluation,’ then a few more and then more again. After a decade, fresh areas of country park adjacent to the developed sites will be designated as ‘low ecological value’ by virtue of the environmental destruction next door.
In a couple of decades, having exhausted the park boundary areas, government leaders and developers will lead us to understand that any development at any location in any country park is acceptable. Destruction of the country park system will be complete.
Instead of this contrived process that galvanises public opposition we could take a holistic approach to both housing and environmental protection.
The background is that the country park system grew up in an ad hoc way in the 1970s, mostly comprising land too steep or rocky or remote for development. But it also left ecologically important sites outside the parks.
So let’s commission an independent expert panel – no government officials, no party hacks, no cronies – to identify the ‘low-ecological value’ sites on country park borders as well as the ecologically important sites not protected.
In doing so way we set markers for what is and isn’t ecologically important and build up a bank of land to for the years to come.
Once we’ve created the new park borders, let’s pass a law to guarantee they are inviolate for the next 50 years. And let’s protect those ecologically sensitive sites that can’t be added to parks by creating a body of law and a team of enforcement officers that will punish those who damage them.
We will lose some country park land, but extend protection to vulnerable sites. It shows a government willing to defend the city’s natural heritage while also making progress on housing and at the same time demonstrate an ability to collaborate with civil society.
It is the exact opposite to the current initiative. In delegating to the Housing Society Leung has made it clear he sees country parks as a storehouse of land for development, regardless of environmental impact or public expectation.
This is an autocrat’s way of getting things done. It’s also another sign that we live in a construction state, primed to continually identify new development projects at public expense. The ‘Belt-Road’ scheme is the ultimate expression of this.
During the Lantau development consultation last year government officials repeatedly assured citizens that south Lantau would remain a green zone protected by its country park status. We know now that that protection means nothing.