Planners challenge Sai Kung land ruling

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

A High Court decision last week directing the Town Planning Board to reconsider a decision blocking development on land at Clear Water Bay, Sai Kung, may lead to the damage of more private sites with conservation value, planners fear.

They are urging the board to appeal against the decision, which found the board made 'material factual errors' in declaring three of four sites near the University of Science and Technology conservation areas.

A Town Planning Board spokesman said the board was seeking legal advice and would call a meeting to discuss whether it should appeal.

Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said after a visit to the sites that he had not found the natural features the board referred to - woodland and a river - when it refused an application to change the zoning.

He also said the board's decision had relied on black and white aerial pictures of the site.

But Planning Department sources said trees had been chopped down and a valley filled in after the sites had been zoned conservation areas in 2002. Two sites had been turned into farmland, another covered with construction materials. Two warnings had been issued to the owner when the damage was found.

Hong Kong Institute of Planners vice-president Chan Kim-on said if such a precedent was set, more owners of private land would be encouraged to erode the ecological value of their sites before applying for development.

'The case also reflects that current enforcement fails to protect conservation sites,' he said.

At least four Town Planning Board members disagreed with the judge's comments, describing them as 'unreasonable'.

'How can a one-stop visit decide the conservation values of the sites?' said one experienced board member who wants the board to appeal.

'The court's decision has overridden the board's decision, which is more professional and scientifically based,' said another, who added that board members could not express their views publicly before a decision was made about a possible appeal.

The three sites are among four, totalling 4.7 hectares, owned by developer Smart Gain Investments.

The fourth encompasses the Pak Shui Wun archaeological site, and the court upheld the board's decision on this site.

The developer is proposing to turn the area into a resort complex if the board amends the zoning to allow development.

Smart Gain Investments could not be reached for comment.