Get creative on heritage issues
People have become increasingly aware of the importance of natural and built heritage to both a sense of history and the quality of life for present and future generations. As a result the need for continued development - and respect for property rights - has to be reconciled with a desire to conserve and enhance precious open space, oases of nature and historic buildings. Such community values can lead to development concepts, or get in the way of them, depending on your point of view.
This has, understandably, led to conflict. One example is green groups' perceptions of a 'destroy first, develop later' approach by developers of sensitive sites. A case in point, according to conservationists, is a project by a subsidiary of property giant Cheung Kong (Holdings) to build about 2,000 flats on a site that lies partly in the internationally listed wetlands of the Deep Bay area. A 'no net loss' principle laid down by the Town Planning Board in 1997 states that any development there should ensure there is no decline in the wetland functions of fish ponds which feed and nurture Hong Kong's extraordinary moving population of birds. Unfortunately, the principle is non-binding. Green groups say the developer has abandoned the fish ponds and, in a new twist to 'destroy first, develop later', now says development will enhance their remaining value through a conservationist-led preservation and management plan.
The Town Planning Board will rule on the project early next month. Green groups want the board to veto the project and a government land swap to relocate it. Some would argue that this approach does not strike a sensible balance with development needs. After all, Hong Kong is blessed with an array of natural bird habitats such as woodlands, wetlands, shrub lands and coastal areas.
But care needs to be taken to ensure that our precious natural assets are not eroded either through neglect or development.
Similar questions arise with regard to our built heritage. Recent controversies over the conservation of historic buildings suggest more needs to be done to ensure that our city's remaining architectural gems are properly preserved.
The well-intentioned 'no net loss' principle should lead to developers coming up with innovative approaches in conjunction with conservation interests which will ensure the right balance is struck.
Public opinion has, in recent years, increasingly recognised the importance of preserving both our natural assets and historic buildings. Government policies need to keep pace with these changes. Balance is the key. Not everything is ultimately worth preserving or conserving. It is a case of identifying what should be and finding creative ways for the city to grow around it while nourishing its soul.