A time for cool heads at Fairview Park

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2009, 12:00am

A clash of legitimate self-interests combined with poor urban planning has resulted in extraordinary scenes at Fairview Park, a low-rise garden-house development in Yuen Long. Residents have been trying to stop container trucks taking a short cut through their community. Neighbouring Tai Sang Wai villagers have taken sides with the truckers to protect right of way for their own trucks, and the business their shops and stalls get from the drivers. Yesterday, police intervened after villagers blockaded Fairview Park Boulevard in retaliation for plans by the developer to close it to heavy vehicles.

This lifestyle versus livelihood battle has dragged on for years. Officials have been reluctant to become involved. After a container truck killed a 12-year-old boy while he was cycling to school two years ago, residents maintained the tragedy could have been avoided if their complaints about trucks using the boulevard, a partly private road, had been heeded.

Now the government has rightly intervened with an appeal for calm and negotiation. Its offer of a one-off payment of HK$1.5 million for road repairs should soothe residents' sense of injustice in having been left to foot the bill. It has also stepped up traffic patrols and proposes to consult the parties about introducing peak-hour traffic restrictions, although that is unlikely to be popular with truckers.

In keeping its distance from the dispute, the government points out that agreements covering right of way in the purchase of agricultural land for Fairview Park Boulevard are a private matter. Its options for intervening are therefore limited. But the government remains responsible for the management of public roads. Since the boulevard has public sections, it is not necessarily powerless to regulate its excessive use by heavy vehicles from outside the village.

The Fairview Park row is a reminder of what can happen through lack of planning. Truck drivers using the boulevard are simply taking the quickest route to the more accessible cargo storage sites. These depots, many operating illegally, are a blight on the New Territories landscape. It is only recently that planners have moved to tackle the problem by providing strategically located sites, and encouraging operators and truckers to move. It is important they balance the interests of industry with those of the environment, villagers and other residents.

Meanwhile, Fairview Park residents, the villagers and truckers have to live with one result of past planning neglect until completion of a promised new road for trucks, in 2012 at the earliest. It is in everyone's interests that they keep cool heads and strive for greater mutual understanding.