Private land could be included in country parks
Government advisers have given their cautious support to proposed changes to the 22-year-old rules for defining country parks that would make it clear that private land is not automatically excluded from a park.
But they warned that landowners would oppose the proposal because they would not want to forfeit their development rights.
If adopted, up to 1,300 hectares of land in 54 enclaves - sites adjacent to, or enclosed by country parks, but not covered by any land-use zoning plan - could become part of the parks if they fulfilled other criteria, such as having high conservation, landscape or recreational values.
The proposals, prompted by the row over excavation work on land at Sai Wan on the Sai Kung coastline last year, were backed by the Country and Marine Parks Board yesterday.
But Li Yiu-ban, a board member and an indigenous New Territories inhabitant, said that while he did not oppose the proposal, no landowner would let their property become part of a country park.
'They will lose forever their rights to build small houses on their properties,' he said. Li said villagers preferred flexible land use controls to rigid country park status. He said the government should also consider leasing the enclaves from their owners for conservation purposes.
In the past, officials deliberately excluded private properties from country parks, though some 460 hectares of private land have been included in the parks because villagers filed no objections.
The government will also stop considering the need to reserve space for urban development in the designation process.
Dr Leung Siu-fai, acting director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said the department would work out how to protect each of the 54 enclaves on a case-by-case basis. But he reiterated that the government would not consider buying all the land.
Betty Ho Siu-fong, another board member and a planning consultant, was worried that sites would be at risk of being developed until the department finished its work.
The number of people who visited the 24 country parks in 2009, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department