Cultivation takes over at Sai Kung beach site

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2011, 12:00am

A farm or garden appears to be taking shape on a controversial site at Tai Long Sai Wan beach, Sai Kung, despite a government zoning order meant to halt development.

A possible loophole, allowing 'agricultural use', has in effect allowed the landlord, Simon Lo Lin-shing, to farm or grow plants on the private site.

Green activists worry the new vegetation could destroy the original ecology there, but planning officials admit there is little they can do.

At the centre of the issue is a piece of land acquired by Lo, chairman of Mongolia Energy, at Tai Long Sai Wan Beach, where he had reportedly planned to build a personal retreat. Construction work started last year, sparking fierce criticism by green groups for causing damage to the local ecology.

In the wake of a public outcry, the government issued an emergency zoning order designating the site for 'unspecified use' and banning all kinds of land use or development unless prior approval is given. No diversion of streams, filling of land or ponds or excavation of land is allowed either, without approval.

The zoning was temporary, pending the Planning Department's studies to determine a long-term zoning arrangement. But this seemingly perfect solution allows 'agricultural use' of the site.

Conservancy Association campaigner manager Peter Li Siu-man said it showed the zoning order was not a good way to address such problems. Li, who visited the site last week, said: 'The zoning plan cannot stop the damage. We already told the government to buy back the site but it wouldn't do so.'

Fellow green activist Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power, said: 'Allowing agricultural use is not helpful from the perspective of preservation. It only allows another form of damage to nature.'

Man proposed the government set up a conservation fund. 'The money can be used to buy back private land with high ecological values. Or the government can co-operate with the landlords to preserve the land.'

Village head Lai Yan, who reportedly pocketed more than HK$1 million from selling some of his land to Lo, said work resumed in early January, with 20 labourers working every day.

'Mr Lo once told me he was planning to do organic farming there,' said Lai.

A visit by the South China Morning Post to the site yesterday found that the work appeared to have been suspended.

The site roughly consists of two interconnected man-made lakes. The larger lake has been fenced off, with more than 100 young shoots planted along the fencing.

Some bore buds, but most had only few leaves. One-third of the muddy, barren soil around the lake was covered by grassland with what seemed regular edges, which suggested it might be artificial.

Two plastic tubes and a pump were being used to direct water for irrigation. Less than 10 metres from the fence stood a sign saying it was on government land.

Another, smaller lake was not wholly fenced off. No agriculture was seen around either lake, except bushes whose purpose seemed to be decorative.

A man in rubber boots was seen holding a shovel beside the lake, but he threw it down after realising he had been seen by the Post. He walked away and entered one of three nearby huts. When the Post tried to approach him, he said: 'You have entered private land, get lost!'

The man, who had five dogs to safeguard the site, also warned against taking any photographs that might include him.

When asked if any construction or farming activities would be carried out after the Lunar New Year, the man replied: 'What are you talking about? What is your intention?'

A small sign was erected between two lakes, warning: 'Private Land. No Trespassing.'

The Planning Department said in a statement yesterday that a recent site inspection found no activities there that might 'contravene the Town Planning Ordinance'.

'[The department] will conduct site inspection as early as possible. Should there be sufficient evidence to prove that there is an unauthorised development, appropriate enforcement action would be taken.'

A spokesman for Lo said he would not comment.