Battle to protect our country parks
The 54 pockets of private land that lie within or near our pristine country parks are a headache that authorities are on the verge of doing something about. Unzoned and covering 1,300 hectares, they are vulnerable to development not in keeping with the conservation necessities of their surroundings. It is good that the Country and Marine Parks Board has backed proposals that, if adopted, would give protection where there is at present little or none. Authorities have to now make that happen.
As with so many dealings with indigenous villagers in the New Territories, the process is unlikely to be smooth sailing. The plan calls for the enclaves to be integrated with the parks if they fulfil criteria like having high conservation, landscape or recreational values. Few villagers will want to lose their right to build a small house on the land. Steely resolve and determination will be needed by the Town Planning Board, which has the final say.
A balancing act is in the offing. An objective has been set, but attaining it will involve fairly meeting public and private interests. That should involve flexibility - ensuring the land is used with conservation in mind, buying it at reasonable rates, leasing it or offering alternate sites. And if rules are abused, the government should resume ownership, as it has done several times over the past year.
Potential threats to the beauty, environmental and recreational importance of our country parks have to be headed off. There have been too many incidents of flagrant disregard for laws in recent years that have damaged and denigrated public land in the New Territories. But it was the outcry over a businessman's excavating of unzoned land and diverting of a stream adjoining Sai Kung's scenic Tai Long Wan coast that spurred authorities into action over the zoning anomaly.
Protective zoning was put in place, proving that when authorities have the will, there is a way. The years of neglect have to end. Every effort now has to be made to fully protect our country parks.