Nam Sang Wai hearing top heavy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 1994, 12:00am

THE current rash of correspondence and articles concerning the Henderson development at Nam Sang Wai, close to the Mai Po Nature Reserve, has prompted this letter.

Earlier this year, I was invited to appear on behalf of the Town Planning Board before the Appeal Board in my private capacity as a local ornithologist of some standing. I am the author of Birds of Hong Kong and South China and have been actively involved with Mai Po for over 25 years. Also, as a trustee of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Hong Kong and, in particular, a member of the Mai Po Management Committee, I was in a position to advise on local environmental aspects.

From the outset of the proceedings, the cards were stacked against the Town Planning Board. The assigned counsel was, like the rest of the responding team, most enthusiastic but a relative junior and totally out-gunned by the might of Henderson. There was no briefing solicitor and our 'experts' were a mixed bunch with little prior knowledge of what to expect.

By comparison, Henderson fielded one of Hong Kong's most eloquent QCs and a team of top briefing solicitors, plus the private sector's brightest planning experts and a team of environmental 'consultants' from Britain. They put on an impressive show but then they were doubtless well paid to do so. Given the circumstances, I suppose it was not so surprising that the voluntary evidence given by my self and Lew Young, the Mai Po manager, was dismissed by the Appeal Board in just 28 words in their 90-paragraph decision.

The Appeal Board was most attentively chaired by Robert Tang QC, who ensured that both parties were given full hearings. Although, it was disappointing that the Board did not see fit, despite requests, to openly visit the site. The Henderson team made much play of the allegation that the area was derelict and degraded.

In truth, Nam Sang Wai is surprisingly peaceful and has a tranquillity not easily found elsewhere in Hong Kong. Birds are much in evidence and on my last visit, there were clear signs that the extremely rare Chinese Otter frequents the fishponds.

I believe it is not widely known that the Appeal Board's decision was only by a majority. One member, David DaSilva, MBE published his own very lucid decision of dissent.

For three reasons, WWF found itself in a difficult position and there is ample reference to this in the Board's decision: WWF Hong Kong's current Executive Director had, with permission, some years earlier prepared an environmental impact assessment for the Henderson project; WWF had tacitly accepted that some sort of development at Nam Sang Wai was inevitable and decided to salvage something out of an undesirable situation; and until recently WWF did not fully appreciate the value of fishponds to the Deep Bay environment.

Even today, this must account for WWF soft stance towards the Henderson proposal.

No doubt it will be argued that both parties had a fair hearing and to now say more would be sour grapes. The Nam Sang Wai appeal was dubbed the 'battle of the ponds' and so it was, but it was only one battle in the war for the buffer zones of Deep Bay and even Mai Po itself. Already, I'm told the eminent QC and the same team of experts and environmental 'consultants' has been marshalled to soon fight the next battle at Fung Lok Wai. They may well win and if form is anything to go by will certainly do so and others will rapidly follow.

CLIVE VINEY Mt Nicholson Gap