Right balance needed in protecting countryside

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am

Preservation of heritage and green open space figured prominently in the chief executive's policy address, with moves to encourage heritage protection by private property owners, and 'to step up our ecological conservation efforts' by declaring our 24th country park on Lantau Island. In practice, however, there remains much to be done to achieve a balance between conservation and development.

The Town Planning Board is to consider appealing after the High Court overruled its decision to include land zoned agricultural surrounding University of Science and Technology staff quarters at Clear Water Bay in a conservation area. The court found the board had made material factual errors in its reasons for dismissing objections over three sites by the owner, who wanted to develop them. Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said the sites did not resemble the description by the board in its reasons. For example, they were not particularly wooded. As we report today, some board members and planners want to appeal against the ruling. Planning Department sources say the sites were woodlands before they were zoned as protected areas in 2002 to preserve the local rural character. The sites had since been altered by tree-felling and earth filling, and the owner had twice been warned about damage to the land.

The Hong Kong Institute of Planners is rightly concerned that allowing development would set a precedent whereby private land owners have diminished the conservation value of protected sites so much they are arguably no longer worth preserving.

The city has already paid a high price for uncontrolled development on rural land in the New Territories, with once-fertile farmlands converted into container storage areas and scrapyards. Upscale development like that planned at Clear Water Bay does not make damage to protected natural environment any more acceptable. Many parts of the territory face similar problems. The government would greatly enhance its stepped-up ecological conservation efforts if it gave priority to introducing measures to ensure respect for protected zonings, including incentives to landowners and effective enforcement.