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Rezoning of Green Belt sites is open, transparent and reasonable

Recently, some groups have alleged that the Government did not fully reveal to the public details of the Green Belt (GB) review. Some even accused the Government of deliberately concealing the truth by saying that the GB review would be confined to sites which are devegetated, deserted or formed, but that in reality many of the GB sites currently proposed for rezoning are vegetated. These accusations are totally unsubstantiated.

The Chief Executive mentioned the GB review in his last two Policy Addresses. Over the past two years or so, we have submitted papers to the Legislative Council (LegCo) to keep members informed of the progress of the GB review, and I have talked about the details of the work many times in “My Blog”. What we have been doing is open and transparent. The GB review has always been conducted in a reasonable manner.  Let me explain again the procedures of and the initial results achieved in the two stages of GB review conducted by the current-term government over the past two years.

The blueprint of land supply as announced in the Policy Address
As announced in the Policy Address last year, the Planning Department had at that time completed the first stage of the GB review, which focused on devegetated, deserted or formed GB sites. As a result, 13 GB sites measuring 57 hectares in total were found suitable for rezoning for residential purposes. The Policy Address also announced that the next stage of the GB review would be carried out soon to release more sites for housing development. With the completion of the first stage of the GB review, which focused on devegetated lands, it is only natural to consider those vegetated GB areas in the next stage of the review.

Two stages of GB review
In response to LegCo members’ questions on land supply on June 26 and October 16 last year, I replied that the second stage of the GB review was already underway, and would focus on sites located on the fringe of urban or new development areas, with relatively lower value as conservation or buffer zones, including sites which are close to developed areas with existing infrastructure and potential for further development.

On November 24 last year, I also wrote in “My Blog” that the second stage of the GB review was underway. In January this year, shortly after the announcement of the Policy Address, we reported to the LegCo on the progress of the GB review at a joint meeting of the Panel on Development and the Panel on Housing. Moreover, I gave more details of the GB review in “My Blog” on several occasions, including the posts for January 19 and April 6 this year. Currently, we are briefing the District Councils on the distribution of the GB sites concerned together with other sites planned for rezoning, as well as their allocation for public and private housing uses.

How to choose GB sites to rezone for housing purpose
As I have reiterated many times in the past, sites zoned as GB mainly fall on slopes and hillsides on the fringe of urban or developed areas. The locations and conditions of these sites are varied. Some are located on devegetated hillsides, while others are on vegetated lands close to existing developed areas or may even be densely vegetated areas which serve as buffer zones for Country Parks or Conservation Areas. As mentioned above, the Government’s GB review is conducted in an orderly manner. We began with devegetated, deserted or formed GB sites in the first stage of the review, and then progressed to sites located on the fringe of urban areas or new development areas with a relatively lower buffer or conservation value, including those which are close to developed areas or public roads, in the second stage. As the latter sites are close to existing transport infrastructure and supporting facilities such as water supply and sewerage, they have good potential for residential use and it is natural to consider them for further developments.

The Government is not “blindly usurping GB sites” as alleged by some groups. On the contrary, we conduct the GB review in a gradual and orderly manner. Balancing the needs of conservation and development, our prime target is to review GB sites with relatively lower conservation value.

Rezone 1 per cent of GB sites to provide 89 000 housing units
As at early June this year, there were about 15 200 hectares of land zoned as GB (excluding areas that fall within the boundaries of Country Parks) in the statutory plans of Hong Kong. The some 70 GB sites we have proposed to rezone have a total area of about 150 hectares, which accounts for only 1 per cent of the GB sites in Hong Kong. If approved for rezoning for housing development, these sites could provide land for building about 89 000 housing units, 70 per cent of which would be public housing.

Given the current shortage in land supply, the long lead time for various land development works, and the limited land available for housing (especially public housing) development in the short to medium term, rezoning 1 per cent of the GB sites for residential use is rational planning for the overall interests of the community. It will strike a balance between the needs of development and conservation.

Mitigation and compensation measures
Although the Government has been endeavouring to develop brownfield sites and new development areas, these are land supply measures in the medium to long term and cannot possibly address our pressing short-term needs. We understand the public’s concern over the rezoning of GB sites which may involve the felling of trees on a large scale and affect the existing natural environment. We will minimise the impacts on the environment by requesting project proponents to preserve or relocate existing trees with conservation value, or replant new ones according to existing greening guidelines and tree conservation mechanisms. As for tree compensation, we value both quantity and quality. If the trees on affected sites cannot be relocated completely, the project proponents will be required to carry out quality greening compensation measures, such as theme planting, or to increase the greenery of the development area as a whole, or to provide vertical greening and roof-top greening or more.

Let’s face reality and accept trade-offs
Planning is a continuing task. The Government conducts land use reviews in accordance with established planning principles and takes into account various factors so as to plan our future land development and address the needs of the community. Different land use reviews, including the two stages of the GB review, are part of our continued planning work and do not involve any change in our established policy. We will remain open to comment and will listen to public views on whether an individual site is suitable for rezoning, whether adjustment could be made to the proposed scope of rezoning, whether trees on the sites could be preserved and how this might be achieved with compensated planting, and more. However, please stop making unsubstantiated accusations against us. Whether to use 1 per cent of GB sites to provide about 89 000 housing units (more than 70 per cent of which would be public housing) in the short to medium term, or to preserve that tiny bit of GB sites located on the fringe of urban areas or new development areas with a relatively lower buffer or conservation value, that is the question. This is an unavoidable choice for our community to make.

 

6 July, 2014

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