Wetland saved from large-scale development - for now

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2006, 12:00am

One of the city's most precious wetlands, Sham Chung in Sai Kung, has been spared large-scale development for three years.

The Town Planning Board decided yesterday to uphold the government's draft plan for the 32.4 hectare site. A spokeswoman for the board said the Planning Department's draft balanced the need to conserve the wetland with the landowners' development rights.

The decision prohibits Sun Hung Kai Properties, which has bought out most villagers and owns 80 per cent of private land on the site, from building - for now - a helicopter pad, a holiday camp, resort-style hotel, houses, a picnic area, private club, church and recreation and sport centres.

Environmentalists have mixed feelings about the decision.

Some said they were pleased the property giant could not undertake large-scale development of the wetland in the near future. But they were also worried the board's failure to reduce the amount of land on which village house development was permitted would leave room for the developer to cause further damage to the wetland, decreasing its environmental value and allowing it to argue for large-scale development in the future.

'Part of the land allocated for village house construction is actually wetland. We worry Sun Hung Kai will continue to damage the wetland,' said Lister Cheung Lai-ping, chief executive of the Conservancy Association.

The developer has already planted grass on land it owns, preparing the way for a golf course.

Sham Chung is one of 12 priority ecological sites listed by the Environmental Protection Department. The site includes a large area of wetland that is home to rare paradise fish found only in a few spots in Hong Kong.

The Planning Department plan calls for half the site to be a conservation area in which development would be banned without exceptional approval. An additional quarter is zoned for agricultural use. About 2.6 hectares is earmarked for expansion of the village. The rest is green belt and a coastal protection area.

The board received 37 objections to the draft.

Under the Town Planning Ordinance, the department will review its plan in three years.