Course:FRST370/Projects/The conflict between real-estate development and preserving parklands in Tai Lam Country Park, Hong Kong

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The case study will examine the land-use management in Tai Lam Country Park located in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been ranked as one of the most unaffordable cities to live concavely for many years. Land supply in Hong Kong isn’t the issue as only 20% of the land in Hong Kong are developed. Whereas the remaining lands are located in protected zones which prohibit developments, this includes all the 24 country parks in Hong Kong which makes up for about 40% of the total area. This case study will analyze the new proposed developments taking place inside this protected zone, especially the development around Tai Lam Country Park. The proposed idea is to bring more affordable housing to the elderly population, giving them easy access to the park. However, other stakeholders such as activist groups opposed to the idea of removing green space for development as this park and many others provide ecological services to their surroundings. Local communities also fear that once when this development establish, many more real-estate firms would also attempt to develop on this protected zone.

Description

Hong Kong, officially known as The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, formerly a British Colony. It is located in Eastern Asia, situated at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta along the south, west, and east side while borders with mainland China towards the north. Hong Kong is mainly comprised of 4 main areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Outlying Islands, and the New Territories. Hong Kong has a population size of over 7.2 million residence with an annual growth rate of approximately 0.8%.  This makes Hong Kong to have an average of density of 6,700 population per square kilometer (Government of Hong Kong, 2014[1]), making Hong Kong one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Hong Kong’s density distribution is strongly influenced by the surrounding geography as most of the high-density development is situated on level grounds. While many of the land outside the major development area in Hong Kong is full of hills and is very mountainous, developing on these areas can be extremely difficult as the region are often subjected to high winds climate caused by typhoons. The Hong Kong government acknowledge the importance of green space and urban forest which is why about three quarters of the land in Hong Kong are zoned for agriculture use and country park reserves, with over 40% of Hong Kong’s total lands broken up to 24 Country Parks and 11 Special Areas are devoted to the purpose of nature conservation, outdoor education, and countryside recreation. (Environment Bureau, 2017[2])


Tenure and Administrative Arrangements

The Tai Lam Chung Reservoir at the Tai Lam Country Park

Hong Kong’s tenure used to be ruled under the British colonies for 99 years and was only released back to the Republic of China in July 1st, 1997. During the lease, the British government was in charged of many aspects of Hong Kong including its forest management which was looked after by a state-owned national forest agency appointed by the British government. After the reunification, this responsibility was later transferred to the Hong Kong government along with the land lease. However, this lease is valid to June 30th, 2047. According to the land lease policy set by the government, “all land within Hong Kong is "State property", the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is responsible for the "management, use and development" and "lease or grant" to land users and to reassure continuation of existing land lease and renewal policy.” (Legislative Council Commission, 2017[3])

Hong Kong’s land policy are governed by either the government or own under a freeholds agreement. The government has the ability of rezoning a certain site for different uses. Hong Kong only has about 30% of high developed area. This is where majority of the Hong Kong citizens work and live. The government has designated about 10% as agricultural land under leases and zoned for non-development purposes. These lands are privately owned by villagers, small businesses and large development firms. Big firms would purchase these lands as land banks in hope that the government would rezone these areas for future development purposes. The Hong Kong government has zoned about 40% of its land for green spaces such as Country Parks (such as Tai Lam Country Park), Conservation Areas and Green Belt. These green spaces are managed and controlled by the government and should remain the same after two decades as the government would renew its own lease of the land.

Affected and Interested Stakeholders

  • Environmentalist – Medium Power
  • Developers - High Power
  • Local residence - Medium Power
  • Local residence - Medium Power
  • Hong Kong government - High Power
  • Park users - Low Power

Challenges

A rally from Greenpeace to "Save Our Country Park"

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With limited land supply available for development, Hong Kong is also one of the most unaffordable cities in the world which retained this title for the past seven years. This unaffordable crisis is forcing many of the low-income residents to move into a coffin size box with barely enough room to lay down let alone to stand. Space is such a premium that for many low-income residences, a room is often setup with multi-functional use in mind. Such as combining the washroom with the kitchen. (Ferreras, J., 2017[4])

While physical land space isn’t the issue as Hong Kong is only using about 20% of the lands developed. Hong Kong does devote a large amount of areas for preservation by designating it as protected area. Doing so to help conserve the natural environment through identification, designation and management for sustainable areas. The Hong Kong government converted this area into multiple country parks which are dispersed mainly in the rural area. (Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department, 2014[5]) By converting them into parks, it allows the locals a place to access for their daily routine or to get disconnected from the busy life in the city. In the early days of the country parks, a common practice is to use plantation to prevent soil erosion and as a quick way to restore vegetation cover. However, these plantations often comprised of many exotic pioneer species. These exotic species are commonly out competing with the native vegetation which makes it difficult to cover the area back to a native state. The government is trying to allocate area with lower ecological value for development such as the perimeter of Tai Lam Country Park.

Development of large apartments are built next to a natural reserve site

Tai Lam Country park is second biggest only after South Lantau Country Park in terms of size, many rates Tai Lam as one of the best country parks in Hong Kong as it contains two very important features. One of its amazing features are the hiking trails located throughout the park. Tai Lam has a dozen different difficulties trail which takes park users through over 20 scenic and iconic spots of Hong Kong, allowing users to tailor the trail to their personal preference. The second important feature is that Tai Lam Country Park is home to the most diverse butterfly species in the city. With some rare species of butterfly that are only spotted in Tai Lam.(Wong, B., 2017[6]) However, this is all under threat as plans to build public housing and homes for elderly on the perimeter of the park could affect the butterfly’s habitat which might result in loss of species if the development isn’t manage correctly. (Zhao, S., 2017[7])

Some arguments made by the lower income residence supports the idea of developing on country park land as it will give them a better lifestyle by living in a space big enough for their needs such as having a separated washroom and kitchen. However, environmentalist disagree with this mindset as they support the idea of preserving natural area as the benefits provided from these green spaces will often outweigh the quick fix of a housing shortage. They also fear that if any of the lands in designated as country park becomes available for development, this might also be allowed at other country parks. Developers however argues that to help low income residence, they would only develop on lands that has a “lower ecological value and are therefore more appropriate for building houses. Environmental impact could be kept to a minimum by way of careful planning.” (Education Bureau, 2017[8])


Recommendations

Hong Kong’s skyline at Victoria Harbor can be seen as a densely group of high rises with not much room to grow besides up. However, this is not the case with many areas of Hong Kong. There are many areas throughout Hong Kong that are not developed or underutilized. These areas are kept this way generally due to lack of interest from public as the location might be hard to access or resides in a less developed area. The Hong Kong government should focus their attention to some of these areas and plan out ways to promote interest in these areas to attract residence’s interest. (Task Force on Land Supply, 2017[9])This would allow the country park to not be affected while still can improve the utilization of land space to satisfy many of the residence, especially the lower income residence which can bring them a more affordable housing.

References

[5]Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department. (2014). Country & Marine Parks. Retrieved from https://www.afcd.gov.hk/misc/download/annualreport2014/en/parks.html

[8]Education Bureau (2017) References and Resources. Retrieved from https://www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/kla/eng-edu/references-resources.html

[2]Environment Bureau (2017). Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+. Retrieved from https://www.enb.gov.hk/sites/default/files/pdf/ClimateActionPlanEng.pdf

[4]Ferreras, J. (2017). What Home Life Looks Like in a City with the World’s Least Affordable Housing. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3535989/hong-kong-cage-homes/

[1]Government of Hong Kong (2014). Hong Kong: The Facts. Retrieved from https://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/docs/population.pdf

[3]Legislative Council Commission (2017). Land tenure system in Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/essentials-1617ise07-land-tenure-system-in-hong-kong.htm

[9]Task Force on Land Supply. (2017). Developing Two Pilot Areas on the Periphery of Country Parks. Retrieved from https://landforhongkong.hk/en/supply_analysis/country_park.php#

[6]Wong, B. (2017). Rare Butterfly Find in Tai Lam Country Park sparks call to move Hong Kong public housing estate. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/article/2116132/rare-butterfly-find-tai-lam-country-park-sparks-call-move-hong-kong-housing

[7]Zhao, S. (2017). Study into building on Hong Kong country parks faces scrutiny. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2121380/study-building-hong-kong-country-parks-faces


Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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