Henderson may be out of time on wetlands

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 December, 2010, 12:00am

Henderson Land's controversial and drawn-out plan to turn the wetlands of Nam Sang Wai into a luxury housing development looks doomed, at least in its present form.

The government said yesterday it did not see why it should give the developer any more time to revise its plan for the Yuen Long site, which was first put forward 14 years ago.

In a strongly worded paper to the Town Planning Board released yesterday, the Planning Department said it was not convinced Henderson should be allowed to renew the development right it acquired in 1996, which expires on December 18, when it still has not met all the planning conditions. 'The applicant has failed to demonstrate why the conditions could not be fulfilled within 14 years,' the department said.

'Growing public awareness towards environmental protection, including wetland conservation - especially heightened in recent years - constitutes a material change in planning circumstances and calls for consideration of the development proposal afresh.'

If the board, which meets today, takes the department's advice and rejects Henderson's request for a three-year extension, the developer will have three options.

It can ask the Town Planning Appeal Board to review the decision within 21 days to decide whether it can gain another three-year extension to fulfill more than 20 conditions - mostly related to environmental protection - imposed 14 years ago.

It can heed officials' advice and go back to the drawing board, in which case it is likely to scale down the development based on updated and tightened environmental standards.

Or it could take a more extreme path and seek a judicial review of the board's decision. It would be the second legal battle over Nam Sang Wai after one in 1996, which the developer won.

A spokeswoman for Henderson said last night the developer would wait for the result today before deciding the next step.

Henderson proposes to take 54 hectares of the 100-hectare wetlands to build 2,250 flats and a nine-hole golf course, which environmentalists say would destroy bird habitat and the picturesque natural scenery.

In 1996, Britain's Privy Council ruled in favour of Henderson after the Town Planning Board rejected the proposal. Since then, Henderson, in fulfilling conditions attached to the planning approval - which it describes as 'philosophical' requests by different departments - made more than a dozen revisions relating to traffic, drainage and environmental impact, but most of them were found to be unsatisfactory.

In the process, the company obtained three approvals to extend the validity of its development right, each by three years. Even so, only three of 27 planning conditions were fulfilled.

The latest revised plan, submitted in September, cut the golf course from 43 hectares to 10 and realigned the road and building layouts.

The Planning Department said this modified plan was such a drastic departure from the approved, original plan that it could not grant another extension. It said existing guidelines for granting such an extension allowed only minor changes.

It is also not convinced Henderson's plan to enhance and manage the remaining wetland can fully compensate for the loss of a large area.

Big plans

Of the 100-hectare wetlands, Henderson proposed to use this many hectares for 2,250 flats and a nine-hole golf course: 54