Foundation to find sites for saving before seeking aid
The newly formed Hong Kong Countryside Foundation will identify sites for protection before digging into donors' pockets or appealing to landowners to transfer the land or sell it.
Leung Chun-ying, an executive councillor and one of the foundation's founders, said the selection process would go beyond ecological considerations, taking in landscape and visual values, cultural heritage and areas where traditional agriculture coexisted with ecology.
Factors such as size and acquisition cost would be used to form a list of priority sites to be tackled through purchase, rental agreement or donation by the property owners, he said.
Leung hinted that scenic Sai Wan beach, heavily excavated after a piece of land was bought by businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing, would be a priority for the foundation.
'We are not able to say anything at this stage until there is something concrete,' said Leung, a frontrunner for the chief executive election.
He said the list would require a few months of work before appeals for cash donation went out and no targets had been set.
Asked if the foundation would accept donations from developers, Leung said: 'We have not approached any and none has come to us.'
The idea for the foundation, which seeks to protect Hong Kong's natural and cultural heritage, came about after the Sai Wan saga.
It hopes to play a role in resolving conflicts between nature conservation and private property rights.
Foundation co-chairman David Akers-Jones - a former chief secretary - yesterday said it hoped the community's young could show their support. 'We feel very strongly about the need to protect the rural environment from unsightly development. It is our objective to keep the countryside pristine and lovely.'
Lam Chiu-ying, a former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, will head a committee to identify suitable sites.
Lam said the number would not exceed the 12 priority ecological ones identified by the government in 2004. If the government bought these sites, the cost has been estimated at more than HK$20 billion.
Leung said no property development would be allowed on the sites and apart from the collection of membership fees and donations, there would only be an entrance fee.
Wong Ka-chai, chief executive of the Wong T. Lap Foundation, which has put forward a recovery plan for Sai Wan, said it was open-minded about collaborating with the Countryside Foundation in preserving scenic beach sites.
'They can use our plan and we can work together or even pool our resources. We are open to all these options as long as Sai Wan is eventually reopened to the public,' he said, adding that any choice should be sustainable in the long term.
Wong said the recovery and preservation plan was sent to Leung two weeks ago, but no feedback had been received.
'The most important part is to make sure the project is sustainable. You just can't buy a site and leave it untouched with its land value declining. That is why we propose to inject some elements of the local economy into the Sai Wan plan,' he said.
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department yesterday said it welcomed 'compatible private sector initiatives' for nature conservation.
Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power, which is in a private-public partnership with a landowner in Sha Lo Tung to develop a columbarium-cum-conservation project, said the foundation would have no impact on their plan.