Fears held over green scheme

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2004, 12:00am

The government's new conservation scheme for 12 sites designated ecologically important last month kicks off today with an open invitation to landowners and developers to submit proposals for developing land in these areas.

But the scheme has been accused of favouring big developers, and officials have privately admitted that they are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The plan seeks to end a stalemate that has put the sites at risk of degradation by allowing property projects - if officials are satisfied with the conservation measures a landlord undertakes - to maintain the land's ecological value.

In exceptional cases, land exchanges may also be approved.

But green groups fear the new policy might be abused by property developers, and market watchers accuse the scheme of discriminating against smaller landlords.

Midland Surveyors director Ronald Cheung Yat-fei described the policy as an 'uneasy trade-off', although he conceded it could help protect ecological treasures.

'The problem is that much of this land is in private hands and development is banned under zoning policy. The result is the sites are left idle and no conservation measures are in place,' he said. 'Leaving it as wasteland or for oxen to stray around on is not conserving the land.'

But he said the scheme seemed 'tailor-made for big developers [as] small developers or landlords cannot afford to fund or manage long-term conservation measures'.

SK Pang Surveyors head Pang Shiu-kee said the huge costs involved detracted from the scheme.

'Many of these ecological sites are in remote countryside. Some may be wetland. The cost of development will be high, not to mention the fund needed for conservation measures. Even big developers may not find it profitable,' he said.

The conservation policy, announced three weeks ago, applies to 12 ecological sites including the Ramsar site in inner Deep Bay, and the Sham Chung wetland bordering Sai Kung West Country Park.

The sites cover 3,418 hectares of land, of which 969 hectares are privately owned. Two schemes for these sites - public-private partnership and management agreements - launch today.

The idea will be similar to Cheung Kong's proposed Fung Lok Wai development in Yuen Long, which confines its residential blocks to a few fish ponds and conserves the rest.

Legislator Daniel Lam, vice-chairman of Heung Yee Kuk, a government-recognised body representing the interests of New Territories villagers, said it was unfair to restrict them from developing their own land. He said the government should buy the land from villagers and do whatever it wanted there.

Conservancy Association chief executive Lister Cheung Lai-ping said it was wrong in the first place to think of developing ecologically valuable sites. She feared the policy could be abused by developers.