Land swap option in plan for niches

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am


The landowner and developer of a proposed columbarium in ecologically sensitive Sha Lo Tung says it would consider a land swap if the government offered one amid strong public opposition to the plans.

Phill Black, a consultant for the Sha Lo Tung Development Company which owns a majority of the private land in the butterfly and dragonfly haven in Tai Po, said yesterday the door was open for discussion of such an option.

'[The proponent] would consider a site outside Sha Lo Tung provided [the revenue from it] it covered the cost of doing the project,' he told government environmental advisers.

Under the original proposal - the first and so far only project devised under a 2004 nature-conservation policy - the company would build the 60,000-niche columbarium on a four-hectare government-owned green belt south of the scenic valley while establishing a 52-hectare nature reserve next to it.

But 10 green groups, opposing any development in the area, proposed the developer should be offered an alternative site while all of Sha Lo Tung was incorporated into the Pat Sin Leng Country Park.

Yesterday's remark by Black at a meeting of the Advisory Council on the Environment's environmental impact assessment subcommittee marked the first time the company had responded to the suggestion.

It followed a whispered exchange with Joseph Fong, who owns the company, after a query from subcommittee chairman Tsang Kam-lam on a possible off-site land swap.

During the meeting, some members also asked whether the scale of development could be cut and whether enough ecological data had been collected. 'It is very piecemeal and not specific,' subcommittee vice-chairman Professor Chau Kwai-cheong said.

It remained uncertain, however, whether the existing or new government would make any changes to the project, set up under a public-private partnership scheme aimed at allowing some development on private land in a sensitive site while conserving most of it.

The project's first environmental impact report had to be withdrawn last year after a successful legal challenge to the report on the massive cross-border bridge to Zhuhai and Macau called others into question.

A revised report submitted to the Environmental Protection Department drew about 330 submissions, most believed to be objections.

Ranked the second most important ecological site among 12 sites shortlisted and rated by the government, Sha Lo Tung is the site of three abandoned villages and former farmland - part of which is now designated a site of special scientific interest.

According to the development proposal, the urn niches would be houses in four three-storey buildings.

The nature reserve, about half being private land under the company's control, would first be protected from natural hazards or human disturbances and later actively managed to enhance its ecological value.

Sha Lo Tung Road from Ting Kok Road would be widened by a metre to 4.5 metres and about 300 trees felled.