2,400 hectares of border zone to open up in 2010

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am

After 60 years, frontier security area will shrink by 85 per cent

More than 85 per cent of the security zone along Hong Kong's border with the mainland - which for nearly six decades has formed a rugged, rural bulwark against illegal immigration and other illicit activities - is to be opened to the public.

Plans unveiled yesterday would leave just 400 hectares off limits, most of it in the divided town of Sha Tau Kok, and open 2,400 hectares to the public - 400 hectares more than was proposed earlier.

The area will be opened to the public in three stages from 2010.

The additional land being released includes, as expected, the Lok Ma Chau Loop - a heavily polluted, 96-hectare no-man's-land left by realignment of the Shenzhen River - two traditional villages and some ecologically sensitive areas.

While surveyors foresee high development potential in some areas, the possible land uses of the area to be opened will not be known until the Planning Department completes a study next year.

The decision to release additional land follows consultation with villagers, green groups and government advisory bodies two years ago when plans for the opening up were first put forward.

The additional land being released includes wetlands near Mai Po and Hoo Hok Wai, the two traditional villages of Tak Yuet Lau and Ha Wan Tsuen, and two patches of land northwest of Lin Ma Hang Village and north of Pak Fu Shan.

The changes were set out in a paper submitted to the Legislative Council by the Security Bureau.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced in his policy address last year that the Shenzhen and Hong Kong governments would co-develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop.

The two governments signed an agreement last month to set up a joint taskforce on developing the border district, which will explore the feasibility of mutually beneficial development of the loop.

The government gave an assurance that land of high conservation value would be protected from development and that where development was permitted, it would be carried out under a public-private partnership.

Sha Tau Kok and the adjacent Starling Inlet will remain closed for security reasons.

The Security Bureau said the decision was made to prevent smuggling and illegal immigration across Chung Ying Street, along which the boundary between Hong Kong and the mainland runs.

It said discussions with the local community would continue on whether tourists and visitors would be allowed to use the Sha Tau Kok public pier to access the outer islands and the east coast of the northern New Territories.

The Planning Department has already launched a study to examine the development potential of the 2,400 hectares and possible constraints on it.

The study is expected to be completed in mid-2009.

A preliminary conceptual plan will be released in the first half of this year for public consultation.

The Security Bureau will seek funding from the Legislative Council in the second half of next year to erect boundary fences and build new roads. That is scheduled to be completed in three stages between 2010 and 2012.

Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors president Yu Kam-hung said if low-rise housing was built in the formerly closed area, its serenity and undisturbed environment would allow developers to charge as much as HK$5,000 per sq ft.

Legislator Patrick Lau Sau-shing said identifying areas for conservation should be the next step for the government. High-density development would be inappropriate.