Rural areas are being ruined by ill-conceived projects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 June, 2010, 12:00am

Examples of public works gone awry ('The white elephants that blight our city', June 7), poor planning and the waste of public money are unfortunately not limited to urban districts.

Our rural areas are ruined by similarly ill-conceived projects.

As if the small-house policy isn't doing enough damage, resulting in chaotic development that disregards even the most basic planning rules, government departments have joined in the race for pouring as much concrete as possible in ecologically sensitive areas.

The root of the problem seems to lie in the rural public works programme introduced in 1999 and the district minor works programme set up in 2007.

Since the launch of these programmes, we have witnessed an increasing degradation of our natural environment, something that should make the government reflect on the actual cost-benefit of minor works carried out by approved contractors without the help of architects, landscape designers, or sustainability managers. As the cost of each project under the above programmes would not exceed HK$21 million, there is no requirement for the Architectural Services Department nor any experts to be involved.

These so-called minor works are proposed by village representatives and district councillors for reasons that many residents suspect have little to do with improving our living environment and everything to do with vested interests and job creation.

A district working group first reviews projects, includes them in a project list, and then submits the projects to a steering committee for endorsement. The district works section is responsible for project design.

To our best knowledge, nobody at the district works section has had any training in rural design.

Although the need for some minor works might be justified, the result often falls short of everybody's expectations because of the application of guidelines that are more suitable for urban areas than rural ones.

The views of the parties being affected by these projects are never actively sought, and no attempt at landscaping is ever made.

So we end up with over-scaled works, insensitivity to the site, use of the wrong materials and bad design: eyesores that make residents and tourists cringe.

If job creation is important to the government, then training people to plant and manage trees, protect natural assets and endangered species, lead eco-tours and patrol areas where tree-poaching and illegal dumping occur, would be preferable to allowing contractors to pour concrete.

One can do a lot of environmental damage with a budget of HK$21 million.

Laura Ruggeri, chairperson, Living Lamma