【明報專訊】SECRETARY FOR DEVELOPMENT Paul Chan Mo-po touched on the problem of land use in country parks on his blog, saying that at seminars on land policy and in discussions with industrial and business professionals and district council members on the question of land supply, he had again and again heard comments on the use of land in country parks. He asked, "It was previously considered taboo to discuss the use of country park land for development purposes, but is the subject still not to be touched on or discussed today?" Obviously, while Chan was quoting other people's comments on the subject, he himself did not believe that the development of country park land should be regarded as "a topic not for discussion, or even a taboo".
However, because of environmentalists' habitual opposition and the media's concern, Leung Chun-ying and the other government officials concerned have all backed away from a good cause.
First, Wong Kam-sing declared that "country parks are protected by well-established laws", and talked in the most general of terms about striking a balance between environmental protection and development, carefully circumventing the issue of whether or not the use of land in country parks should be a taboo subject.
We then see Chan himself declaring through a spokesman for the Development Bureau that "he was just sharing with the public the opinions of some people in society in order to initiate deliberations and discussions, and such opinions do not represent the government's standpoint".
And in answering media enquiries while he was in Guiyang, Leung maintained that the government's country park policy has not changed.
Now the question is whether or not the possibility of developing country park land should be discussed and explored. In fact, Leung himself discussed the possibility in the days when he was writing for this newspaper, though he said after he became Chief Executive that "the country parks must be left alone". What is more, before the Leung government was sworn in, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, then Secretary for Development and now Chief Secretary, also talked about the problem of land use in country parks in a media interview. The stand Leung and Cheng once took on this issue showed that anyone with any knowledge of Hong Kong's land and housing problem understands that the city's land shortage can be greatly alleviated by using just a small portion of country park land for development.
Environmentalists are as a rule opposed to the development of country park land. This is in line with their beliefs. However, Hong Kong's current land policy is totally unsustainable. And this has to do not only with residential needs, but also with economic and overall development. Strictly speaking, it is an issue that will decide Hong Kong's rise or fall, and land supply is one of the most important factors involved.
With respect to the reclamation and use of land, the government must transcend the narrow interests of particular social groups, and concentrate on increasing the area of usable land. Reclaiming land from the sea and allocating a small portion of country park land for development are options most worthy of consideration. As this is an issue of vital importance, the government should be ready to demonstrate a strong political will by holding a plebiscite for the public to decide whether or not land should be reclaimed from the sea, and whether a small portion of country park land should be allocated for development. The best possible use of our land is the concern of everyone in Hong Kong, and the issue must not be monopolised by environmentalists.