Hong Kong’s country parks will not be developed for residential or commercial purposes for the next two years, Development Secretary Paul Chan pledged on Wednesday.

Chan said that although the government had started on the rezoning of 61 green belt sites involving 150 hectares of land – equivalent to one per cent of the territory’s green belt – the public should not misunderstand the work and think country parks were being destroyed.

Chan said that the chief executive has made it clear that the government will not develop country parks in the remaining two years of its term.

He added: “There is never any best time [for rezoning] and [the government] can only face reality. Those waiting for public housing are very anxious. Regardless of how difficult the work, [the government] should do it.” Chan also said he hoped the public would support the rezoning initiative.

Secretary of Development Paul Chan Mo-po
Secretary of Development Paul Chan Mo-po. Photo: GovHK.

Currently about 15,200 hectares of land are deemed to be green belt sites. In a blog post written by Chan in 2014, he said that if the proposed sites were approved for rezoning land could be freed up for 89,000 housing units, 70 per cent of which would be public housing. He said at the time the development of green belt sites would solve short-term housing needs.

According to the planning department, “green belt” sites are designated to “conserve the existing natural environment amid the built-up areas or at the urban fringe.”

Country parks are designated under the Country Parks Ordinance, where all uses and developments require consent from the Country and Marine Parks Authority. The country parks and special areas cover a total area of 44,300 hectares.

In 2013, Chan penned an article calling on the public to discuss the possibility of developing country parks. He wrote: “In the past, the development of country park land was regarded as a topic not for discussion – even taboo – but is the subject still not to be touched on or discussed today?”

Earlier this month, former member of the government’s long term housing strategy board, Kaizer Lau Ping-cheung, proposed to develop three percent of Tai Lam Country Park, over 170 hectares of land, in order to provide 30,000 public and private housing flats.

In June, Secretary of Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung admitted to reporters that the government’s ten-year goal, announced in December 2014, to provide 290,000 public housing apartments may not be met due to a lack of land. Cheung said currently the government has enough land to construct 254,000 flats over the next ten years, however 80 per cent of that land is not yet suitable for development.

Arthur Lo is an undergraduate student currently on a gap year. During Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, he worked as a fixer, translator and producer for foreign media outlets such as Al-Jazeera.