Yes to beach plan, with conditions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2008, 12:00am

Environmental body gives Lung Mei project the green light, but with strings attached

The government's environment advisers yesterday tentatively endorsed plans for a man-made beach at Lung Mei in Tolo Harbour, but with conditions.

After a meeting lasting three hours, the Advisory Council on the Environment asked the proponent of the project, the Civil Engineering and Development Department, to submit further information to the environment chief to prove that Lung Mei had low ecological value.

It suggested that Director of Environmental Protection Anissa Wong Sean-yee issue a work permit only if the site was confirmed to be low ecological value after taking into account the additional information.

The site of the proposed beach is a 200-metre muddy stretch of coastline near Lung Mei Village in Tai Po.

Speaking after the meeting, the council's chairman, Lam Kin-che, said they had imposed conditions on the project, including not opening the beach until a sewerage network plan for the area was completed, minimising the impact of street lights and guaranteeing continuing monitoring of water quality.

He admitted that some of the members were not convinced fully about the ecological assessment, which had been disputed by environmentalists.

While the environmental impact assessment found about 30 species in the area during a three-month period, green groups found 106 species on two visits to the site.

Robin Kennish, a consultant from Environmental Resources Management, the company that conducted the assessment, explained that most of the extra species found were 'common and typical' in Hong Kong and the shoreline affected by the project was just 2.2 per cent of the Plover Cove area.

He also defended the methodology adopted for the study which, he said, was aimed at identifying the structure of the habitats and the dominant and representative species rather than providing an exhaustive lists of species that was of little value for assessing impact.

Markus Shaw, the chairman of WWF, however disputed the claim, saying the beach plan would cut biodiversity and could have lasting and cumulative impacts.

Before the meeting, a group of 10 Tai Po district councillors and 40 residents demonstrated outside the Environmental Protection Department's Wan Chai headquarters, denouncing conservationists' attempts to halt the project.

The group, chanting 'Return me, Lung Mei Beach', insisted that Lung Mei used to be a natural beach and the project only aimed to restore it.

Green groups, meanwhile, held their own rally, with the Hong Kong Wildlife Forum holding a press conference to reiterate their stance.

The HK$130 million proposal will see about one hectare of land reclaimed at Lung Mei near the Plover Cove Reservoir to provide space for 100 car-parking spaces, and a building that could cater for the demand of about 4,000 visitors a day during the summer peak period.

Tens of thousands of cubic metres of sand will be dug up from the Pearl River Estuary and dropped on the natural rocky and sandy shoreline to turn it into a 200-metre-long and 30-metre-wide bathing beach.

Local politicians said the beach plan, put forward in 1998, was a high priority for the district, which did not have a bathing beach and sufficient swimming facilities.