Villagers to step up zoning battle
Ada Lee and Joyce Ng
Indigenous villagers in the New Territories have vowed to take stronger action against the government's plan to zone country park enclaves that they own, saying the scheme undermines their rights to develop.
Leaders of the powerful rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk passed a motion yesterday to register objections to the ongoing plan to zone 54 such enclaves as part of neighbouring country parks. The enclaves were never previously included in any land-use zoning plans.
The country park proposal was prompted by the row over excavation work last year on land at scenic Sai Wan on the Sai Kung coastline. After the damage was widely reported, officials disclosed there were 54 such unprotected enclaves in country parks, involving 1,300 hectares of land.
Conservationists then urged officials to zone the vulnerable sites as soon as possible.
Leung Fuk-yuen, Shap Pak Heung Rural Committee chairman, said the zoning plan amounted to turning private land into public use, and was 'destroying Hong Kong's structure'.
Leung, a leader of a June protest outside the Legislative Council against the government's policy to take down illegal structures in village houses - in which thousands of villagers took part - said he would take more radical action this time. He said he would discuss his plans with village representatives next month.
'The Development Bureau does not know what it is doing. The kuk has been weak. We need action,' Leung said.
Kuk vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming said many villagers were unhappy about the lack of consultation. He said the kuk had suggested the matter be resolved by land exchanges or cash compensation, but the government was not keen on the ideas.
The kuk will meet some indigenous villagers living overseas on Monday and is planning a trip to Europe in November to discuss future actions.
Cheung said many landowners in the proposed zoning area moved to Europe in the 1960s. Some were considering returning to live in their villages. 'They have been saving up money for years to build a small house on their own land,' Cheung said. 'If their land becomes a part of country parks, their money and effort would be in vain.'
A Development Bureau spokeswoman said planning officials had been working on temporary zoning plans for the enclaves. The zoning would last for three years pending further studies. The objective was to protect sites of scenic value.
When officials worked on the detailed zoning plans in future, they would take into account the demand for village houses, the village boundaries, conservation value of sites and provision of infrastructure.
'The Town Planning Board will consult stakeholders in the process, and make decisions striking a balance between public interest and private property rights,' the spokeswoman said.