Planning board decides not to challenge Clear Water Bay ruling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am

The Town Planning Board has decided to accept a court ruling to reconsider a decision blocking development of conservation areas at Clear Water Bay, saying the chance a successful legal appeal is small.

A board source said the board had given up on taking the case to a higher court after obtaining legal advice last month, the same day it decided to appeal against a court decision relating to another development in Seymour Road, Mid-Levels, by Swire.

A board member cited a government legal expert as saying that the board's chance of winning an appeal was less than 50 per cent. If the board lost the appeal, the legal expert said, it would probably set a precedent for future cases of a similar nature.

Another board member said the board had reacted differently to the two court cases - the Clear Water Bay and Seymour Road developments - because the judge had allowed the board to reconsider its decision in the case of Clear Water Bay.

Although the board accepted the court's ruling, members said whether the conservation areas had 'wooded slopes' and a 'river valley' - which the judge questioned after his visit to the site- was still debatable.

'We will seek professional advice from the Planning Department again and see if the areas should be maintained for conservation purposes,' a board member said.

A source from the department said it would maintain its zoning of the sites as conservation areas.

'The original planning intention was to protect the natural landscape of Clear Water Bay,' the source said, adding that only small-scale activities such as farming and educational activities were meant to be allowed on the sites.

'Village houses will now be allowed if they are zoned as green belts. They will destroy the landscape.'

Last month, the High Court said the board had made 'material factual errors' in declaring three of four sites near the University of Science and Technology conservation areas.

Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said after a visit to the sites that he had not found the natural features - woodland and a river -the board referred to when it refused an application to change the zoning. But the Planning Department said trees had been chopped down and a valley filled in after the site had been zoned as a conservation area in 2002.

The three sites, totalling 4.7 hectares, are owned by developer Smart Gain Investments. It is proposing to turn the areas into a resort complex if the board amends the zoning to allow development.

A spokeswoman for the Town Planning Board said it would reconsider any objections early next year.

Chan Kim-on, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, said the case would be likely to set a precedent that encouraged land owners to ruin natural features on conservation sites to make them easier to develop.

He urged the government to step up a review of all conservation sites and to specify what natural features should be preserved in each case.

'A clear specification can provide flexibility for conservation and development to co-exist,' he said. 'If a land owner could develop part of an area, which from the conservation point of view was less important, he might be happy to conserve the rest.

'It is better than freezing the whole lot and tempting land owners to slowly kill conservation values to make way for full development.'