Henderson out to salvage wetlands plan
Henderson Land isn't giving up its 14-year-old plan to develop a picturesque Yuen Long wetland without a fight.
It is poised to seek a review of the Town Planning Board's decision yesterday not to extend a December 18 deadline for the developer to start work on the Nam Sang Wai project under a plan that meets all the conditions previously imposed.
Environmentalists called on the developer to simply abandon the plan to avoid further tarnishing its reputation.
They want the company to open talks with the government on transferring the development rights to somewhere less sensitive.
Planning officials said publicly yesterday that they could not see why Henderson had been unable to meet the conditions for the 2,550-unit luxury estate after more than a decade and three previous extensions.
District Planning Officer Amy Cheung Yi-mei raised doubts as to whether Henderson would be able to meet the conditions even if it were given three more years. 'After 14 years, still they are not able to fulfil most of the conditions,' she said.
'It has highlighted the underlying conflicts inherent in the original master layout plan that those conditions are unlikely to be met without materially changing the whole plan.'
Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said it would be unwise for Henderson to exhaust all means to resurrect the plan.
'Stop the bleeding now, as the public already has a very negative perception of the developer. It should forfeit its development rights in Nam Sang Wai and ask for a land swap somewhere,' he said.
Kwong Chun-yu, a Yuen Long district councillor who has collected thousands of signatures from the public to oppose the plan, welcomed the decision.
'It's a victory for us. But it would be good for Henderson Land to return the land to the community for the public good and to work with the citizens to preserve Nam Sang Wai,' he said.
Henderson did not send a representative to the meeting.
'We will study the reasons behind the ruling before deciding the next steps to take,' a spokeswoman said.
A person with knowledge of the project said the developer would probably seek a review, which it has three weeks to do.
As well as the residential units, Henderson planned to build a nine-hole golf course - reduced from 43 hectares to 10 hectares - on the 137-hectare site. It also proposed a 55-hectare nature reserve in nearby Lut Chau as well as a 33-hectare wetland enhancement area.
Citing the complicated nature of its development plan, Henderson applied to extend the deadline for three more years earlier this month following similar requests approved by the board and the director of planning in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
But the planning board's rural and town planning committee unanimously rejected the application.
The developer could not start work by the December 18 deadline - laid down at the time of the last extension in 2007 - without meeting all the conditions, including environmental, drainage and traffic requirements, laid down in 1996.
Failing the to meet the deadline does not just mean all of the developer's prior efforts will be wasted. It could also be asked to launch a fresh application and meet the latest, more stringent planning standards and higher public expectations.
The original plan, put forward in 1992, included an 18-hole golf course - twice the current plan - but excluded the wetland enhancement area. Under the town planning guidelines, significant changes to the plan are not allowed in order to meet planning conditions.
Committee spokeswoman Christine Tse Kin-ching said members rejected the extension request as they believed the planning circumstances, such as public expectations and more stringent environmental standards, had changed since the original planning approval in 1996.
If Henderson seeks a review, the planning board will have to make a decision within three months.
But even if it succeeds, it will still have to meet all the conditions before going ahead.
If it fails, Henderson can go to the Town Planning Appeal Board. If that appeal failed, the company could then seek a judicial review.
The total area, in hectares, of the Nam Sang Wai site in Yuen Long that Henderson wants to develop is: 137
Taking a swing
As well as 2,550 luxury units, Henderson proposed building a nine-hole golf course occupying this many hectares: 10