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LCQ3: Studies on two sites on the periphery of country parks

Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (July 12):

Question:

On 17 May this year, the Government announced that it had invited the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) to undertake technical and ecological studies, including the potential for developing public housing and elderly homes, in respect of two sites located on the periphery of Tai Lam Country Park and Ma On Shan Country Park respectively. In reply to my written question on June 28, the authorities indicated that the Government had not taken part in the specific work to take forward the studies, and hence had no information on the exact locations and areas of the sites selected for the studies nor the considerations in site selection. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the two decisions, namely to conduct the aforesaid studies and to select the two aforesaid sites as the pilot sites for the studies, were made by the Government or HKHS; whether the Government can make public the entire process of the studies from idea development to implementation, as well as the relevant correspondence between the Government and HKHS and other documents; if such information cannot be made public, of the reasons for that; and

(2) as the Chief Executive indicated in her election manifesto that she would establish a dedicated task force to conduct a comprehensive and macro review of Hong Kong's land supply options, of the latest progress of and the work schedule for the establishment of the task force by the Government; whether the Government will, in the light of the imminent commencement of work of the task force, request HKHS to withhold or even call off the conduct of the aforesaid studies; if not, of the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

As the Chief Executive (CE) mentioned in her election manifesto, we must find more land to tackle the housing problem faced by many Hong Kong people. In fact, apart from housing, we need sufficient land to accommodate the government and community facilities, open space, public space, etc. The fact is, land use planning and development in Hong Kong, particularly large-scale projects, often take over a decade to complete. We cannot afford to just pursue one single option to develop land, but take a multi-pronged approach and be prepared to explore various possibilities. Our past experiences also suggest that land use planning and development require sustained efforts, in addition to foresight and an open mind, to prepare for the future.

My specific responses to the two-part question by the Hon Tanya Chan are as follows –

(1) In paragraph 117 of the 2017 Policy Address, the then CE stated that while increasing the total area of ecological conservation sites and country parks and enhancing their recreational and educational values, the community should also consider allocating a small proportion 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. To follow up on this suggestion, the last-term Government invited the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) in May this year to undertake the ecological and technical studies on land on the periphery of country parks. The invitation has set out the purpose of these studies, i.e. to provide objective analyses and enable rational deliberations by the community. The invitation also stated that the studies will be undertaken by HKHS at its own costs, and that the studies would cover two areas in Tai Lam and Shui Chuen O which fall within or lie close to Tai Lam Country Park and Ma On Shan Country Park respectively.

HKHS's studies will mainly look into the two areas' ecological, landscape and aesthetic values; recreational and development potentials; and the major technical factors and practical constraints of developing public housing and other public facilities thereon. When making the invitation, the Government also made clear that the relevant statutory provisions, including those relating to country parks, town planning and environmental impact assessment, are still applicable. In addition, should the Government decide to proceed with the development of these sites, the possible role of HKHS would be subject to further discussion between the Government and HKHS.

Experienced in the development of subsidised and elderly housing, HKHS has long been an important partner of the Government in housing development, and has carried out studies on experimental initiatives relating to housing and other social welfare facilities in the past. As regards the studies on land on the periphery of country parks, the aforesaid two areas were agreed as the study area, mainly in consideration of the basic transport network and infrastructure facilities in these areas, and the existence of different types of housing in the vicinity. Since the studies are to be carried out by HKHS at its own costs, the Government has not taken part in HKHS's specific work on taking forward the studies.

(2) On developing land, we need the collective wisdom of the society, and in the process make compromises and involve give-and-take, in order to reach consensus on the solution in the best interest of the society. We are making active preparation to set up a dedicated task force, as proposed in CE's manifesto, to take a macro review of our land supply options.

The task force will be chaired by a non-official, with members coming mainly from the professions including planning, engineering, architectural and environmental disciplines, as well as stakeholders at district level. The Development Bureau will provide secretariat support to the task force. We are preparing for the establishment of the task force in full swing, and will report progress to the public in due course.

The current-term Government welcomes HKHS's studies. Indeed, the two sites under study cover just about 40 hectares of land, which account for less than 0.1 percent of some 40 000 hectares of country parks across the territory. The Secretary for Environment is also incorporating more land of high ecological value into country park area. We trust that the studies could complement the work of the task force, and facilitate public discussion, in a more comprehensive and rational manner, on whether land on the periphery of country parks could be one of the many options under our land supply strategy. Hence, there is no need to halt or shelve HKHS's studies.

Land shortage has been plaguing Hong Kong in recent years. I earnestly hope that all sectors of the community can put aside differences and consider with inclusiveness every possibility of creating land to make Hong Kong a better place.

Ends/Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:00

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