Offering better protection for country parks
The article headlined, 'Parks under siege', by Friends of the Earth director, Mei Ng (South China Morning Post, July 19), reflects a basic misunderstanding of the administration's intentions in proposing amendments to the Country Parks Ordinance (CPO). Let me clarify matters.
The article failed to understand the Agriculture and Fisheries Department's (AFD) power in control of developments in country parks. Although Section 4 of the CPO provides for the AFD to control and manage country parks, and Section 10 empowers it to approve or refuse to approve a new development in a proposed country park shown in draft maps, the ordinance does not give the AFD explicit power to exercise control over developments on unleased land in designated country parks. The control for such developments is exercised by the Director of Lands pursuant to the Crown Lands Ordinance.
This is unsatisfactory and ineffective as the AFD can only act through the Director of Lands. The proposed amendments are designed to strengthen the AFD's power to control developments not only in proposed country parks but also in designated country parks, so that no development may take place without its approval. The granting of approval by the AFD is in addition to any other approval which may currently be required.
More importantly, the proposed amendments are designed to extend the application of the CPO to the Government. This is an additional safeguard and will afford better protection for our country parks.
The proposed amendments to the CPO have the support of the Country Parks Board (CPB). It is misleading to say that 'the Country Parks Ordinance is being turned into a Country Parks Development Ordinance'. In fact, the CPB had not made any proposal to remove or reduce the existing power of control and management of country parks.
On the contrary, it has endorsed the proposed amendments to strengthen the power of the AFD to control developments in both proposed and designated country parks and special areas.
The article also failed to understand the legality of development control in country parks, saying, 'At present there is a presumption against development in existing country parks. No development is permitted other than minor maintenance and repair works or uses associated with agriculture, forestry and fisheries.' This presumption against development only applies to proposed country parks shown in a draft map. Once the park is designated and the map is approved, this will no longer apply. In other words the 'presumption against development' will lapse once the park is designated. This is unsatisfactory. The AFD has proposed greater protection for our country parks - simply put, to extend this presumption-against-development clause to unleased land in designated country parks as well as special areas.
On the question of replacement of an approved map, the Governor in Council may refer any approved map to the AFD for replacement by a new map. The article however suggested that ' . . . the Government is hoping to do away with such procedures althogether . . . '. This is not true. The existing procedure will be maintained. The legal procedure including public consultation will also be adhered to.
Notwithstanding the above, the proposed amendments are to empower the AFD to issue enforcement notices to stop development works in country parks without the prior approval or in the case of non-compliance of conditions imposed by the AFD. The amendments are also designed to empower the AFD to require restoration work to be carried out at the offender's expense. All these powers are provided in the existing CPO.
The proposed amendments will facilitate better protection for country parks rather than to facilitate developments in country parks as alleged in the article.
I am pleased to note that the article recognised the importance of our country parks and the good work of the past 20 years. The Government will certainly make every effort to enhance such good work. At present there are 22 country parks, and 14 special areas with a total area of 41,474 hectares, covering some 40 per cent of the land area of Hong Kong. This is a great achievement for a small but densely populated territory like Hong Kong.
It is unfair to compare Hong Kong's achievement with those of the UK and Canada in terms of protected land per capita. If this comparison were to be used, the whole of Hong Kong (and more) would have to be designed as a country park.
WONG FOOK-YEE for Director of Agriculture and Fisheries