The Town Planning Board's recent decision to approve a residential development close to protected marshes in Mai Po on conditions that developer Cheung Kong sets up a wetlands conservation foundation to manage the ecologically sensitive area has aroused mixed responses from environmentalists.
Some have hailed the project as a breakthrough because Cheung Kong will fund the foundation, which the World Wide Fund for Nature hopes will become the forerunner of a central trust. Others fear the promise to set up a foundation is a ploy to win development approval, and they will not be assured of its merits until they have seen how it will work.
However, all agree that wetlands need to be managed actively to preserve their natural features and that leaving them as wilderness is not an option. The foundation is an idea worth pursuing as it is probably the only way developers owning patches of wetland in the area can be co-opted to work together.
Regrettably, more than a month after the Town Planning Board gave its approval, Cheung Kong still has not produced details of its plan. Nor has the Government decided what role it would play in the project. There is a strong argument for senior officials to play a direct role in overseeing the work of the foundation, both to demonstrate the Government's commitment to conservation and to ensure the officials responsible have sufficient clout. This is important as environmental affairs will, from next year, come under the new Environment and Food Bureau, which does not have policy responsibility for land matters.