Advisers voice fears over Mai Po project

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am

Cheung Kong plan sparks health concerns

Public health and the impact on the landscape are among the concerns of a government advisory body over a plan by Cheung Kong (Holdings) to build homes around fish ponds and marshes near one of the city's most sensitive wildlife spots.

Plans for the Fung Lok Wai project in Yuen Long call for the development of only 5 per cent of the 80-hectare site near Mai Po Nature Reserve, famed for its bird life. The remaining area will be turned into a wetland nature reserve by the developer to be run by an independent body.

But critics say the planned blocks are five or six times the height of the usual three-storey New Territories houses and worry about possible risks in an avian flu outbreak.

An environmental impact assessment report, released for public comment last month, was seen as helping the property developer to win support from sceptics about the feasibility of its plans.

The report came under discussion yesterday by a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Environment, which will advise the director of environmental protection on whether the project should go ahead.

Subcommittee member Edwin Lau Che-feng said the project was too close to the birds' habitat. 'The government as a precautionary measure ordered closure of the Mai Po reserve during the bird flu outbreak last year,' he said. 'Is the government prepared to evacuate the residents in the project if bird flu hits the city?'

Mr Lau, also director of green group Friends of the Earth, said the project was 'incompatible' with the landscape and scenery of the habitat.

Subcommittee chairman Ng Cho-nam said he would report members' advice to the council at a meeting scheduled next month and urged the government to monitor the management and financial support of the planned wetland nature reserve.

The developer has pledged to set up a non-profit foundation to oversee the reserve, which would be managed by professionals.

Mutual Luck Investment, a subsidiary of Cheung Kong, said yesterday it was 'committed to the financial requirements of the setting up and the operation of the wetland nature reserve'. A sum of HK$4 million would be injected every year for the operation of the reserve before the foundation was established, which would take about three years.

'WWF Hong Kong will participate and monitor the design, construction and operation of the reserve and will train up staff for the future management,' the company said.

Janet Lee Ka-wai, conservation officer of WWF's Mai Po projects, said WWF planned to revive the abandoned fish ponds in the area and fishermen would be employed to resurrect the old practices.

Grace Woo Chia-ching, executive director of Cheung Kong Holdings, said she was confident the development would be completed in 2016.

Rich Valley has also proposed building 21 houses and a clubhouse in the wetland buffer area near Mai Po. That plan is due to be discussed by the Town Planning Board today.