LCQ16: Study on the development potential of sites on periphery of country parks

Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (May 31):


On the 17th of this month, the Government announced that the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) will, on invitation, undertake technical and ecological studies (including the potential for developing public housing and elderly housing) (peripheral areas study) in respect of two sites on periphery of country parks and that HKHS would undertake the study with its internal resources. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the Government commissioned HKHS in the past 10 years to conduct studies on the development of public housing projects; if so, of the dates when such studies were conducted, their nature and the amounts of expenditure incurred; the justifications and procedures for the Government's decision to commission HKHS to undertake the peripheral areas study and the commissioning process involved, including the time when it decided to commence the study, when it extended the invitation to HKHS, and when HKHS accepted the invitation;

(2) whether it knows the amount of expenditure incurred by HKHS in each of the past five years in conducting project studies; the estimates of expenditure on the peripheral areas study to be undertaken by HKHS, and whether HKHS has assessed the impact of this additional expenditure on its financial position;

(3) of the reasons why the Government has not conducted public consultation before commencing the peripheral areas study; whether the Government will conduct public consultation on the use of sites on periphery of country parks for subsidised housing development; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) as the Chief Executive (CE) has indicated that the Government has discussed with CE-elect the conduct of the peripheral areas study, whether CE-elect has agreed and undertaken that the Government of the new term will continue to support the conduct of the study; if so, of the time when she indicated such stance to the Government;

(5) whether the Government has, before inviting HKHS to undertake the peripheral areas study, consulted the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Country and Marine Parks Board, and sought legal advice on whether the conduct of the study would contravene the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap. 208); if so, of the details (including the dates on which such work was undertaken and the relevant outcome); if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) of the areas and expected scales of development (including the types and numbers of public housing flats to be provided) of the two sites involved in the peripheral areas study, and the plan for the follow-up work after the completion of the study?



In the 2017 Policy Address, the Chief Executive stated that while increasing the total area of ecological conservation sites and country parks and enhancing their recreational and educational values, we 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. In this connection, the Government has invited the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) to undertake ecological and technical studies to look into the ecological, landscape and aesthetic values, recreational and development potentials and practical constraints of 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.

Our reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1), (2) and (4) Apart from continuing to provide HKHS with sites suitable, or with potential, for housing development for taking forward subsidised or other relevant housing projects, the Government has not separately commissioned HKHS to conduct any studies on public housing development in the past 10 years. As regards HKHS's housing project studies, according to the information from HKHS, HKHS has incurred a total of about $40 million for carrying out 20 project studies in the past five years. Of these, nine were confirmed to be feasible and could be further taken forward, and the study fees will be included in the development costs of the relevant projects. The other 11 projects were confirmed to be not feasible upon study and HKHS has decided not to further take forward the projects.

Well experienced in the development of subsidised and elderly housing, HKHS has long been an important partner of the Government in housing development. The Government is glad that HKHS is willing to accept the invitation to conduct the ecological and technical studies, at its own costs, on the two areas concerned which fall within the periphery of country parks. The Government has informed the Chief Executive-elect. HKHS will carry out the studies in two phases, with its own resources. The estimated cost for the preliminary studies is about a few millions. The cost of the detailed studies can only be estimated upon commissioning of the consultant(s).
(3), (5) and (6) The HKHS studies will cover two sites on the periphery of country parks, one in Tai Lam, Yuen Long (to the west of Tai Lam Tunnel Toll Plaza, covering some 20 hectares of Tai Lam Country Park), and the other in Shui Chuen O, Sha Tin (adjacent to Shui Chuen O Estate, covering some 20 hectares of Ma On Shan Country Park). These two sites already have basic transport network and infrastructure facilities, with various types of housing in the nearby areas, and thus have been selected for the studies. Nevertheless, whether the concerned areas in country parks are suitable for housing development will be subject to their ecological and public enjoyment values, the impact of developments on the country parks and the ecological environment, the development feasibility and social impact, etc., as well as the need to go through the various applicable statutory procedures and requirements, including the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap. 208), the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) and the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (Cap. 499).

The studies by HKHS are preliminary feasibility studies, with the aims to look into the sites' ecological, landscape and recreational values, in addition to the key technical factors in developing public housing, to provide more information and an objective basis for the public to further consider and rationally discuss whether a small proportion of land on the periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value should be allocated for purposes such as public housing and non-profit-making elderly homes. HKHS will require the consultant(s) to communicate with the relevant bodies for exchanges of professional views.

The Government's invitation to HKHS for carrying out the studies does not mean that the Government has agreed to develop housing in the concerned country park areas under the studies. Upon HKHS's completion of the studies, the Government will further consider the technical feasibility of the development proposals and the relevant policy issues. If it is considered suitable to take forward the relevant development projects under an appropriate premise, the Government will seek the views of the public, Legislative Council and relevant statutory bodies including the Country and Marine Parks Board on the feasible proposals, which will also go through the various applicable statutory procedures as required. The Government has yet to come up with any concrete proposal or timetable at this stage. 

Ends/Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:30