Plan to protect defaced beach
A scenic beach site defaced by massive excavation last year will be better protected under a government proposal to designate the Tai Long Sai Wan enclave as a country park - a move welcomed by environmentalists but lamented by local villagers.
The proposal, to be discussed by the Country and Marine Park Board on Tuesday, could include the entire 17-hectare enclave currently not covered by Sai Kung East Country Park but within its boundary. It might include both private and government land. If supported, the plan will go for public consultation.
The move comes as the Planning Department is in the midst of formulating a land-use zoning plan for the site. Last year it enacted an an interim zoning to freeze all development there following public outcry at the excavation works exposed by the South China Morning Post.
Environmentalists say the proposed designation would give the site more resources and better management from the government than a passive land-use zoning. But villagers are worried their tradition of developing small houses, which they claim as a right, will face restrictions because development within the park will presumably be forbidden.
It looks unlikely the government will buy out the private sites because the law does not require this when designating a country park. But landowners affected can lodge objections to the proposal and seek compensation if existing or proposed uses allowed in land leases are prohibited by the government.
The government has said the extent of development threats were crucial factors in deciding which of up to 77 enclaves - 40 of them already under permanent or temporary zoning - should be incorporated into country parks.
But there are still outstanding issues to be clarified, including how small-house applications will be processed after the designation, and how the livelihood of the area can be improved under the country park system. Currently, all country parks are managed by Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Lai Yan, Sai Wan village head, said he will oppose the designation. 'We have been neglected in this poorly accessible area by the government for a long time and now what they are doing appears to be like a plot to further take our property away.'
Simon Lo Lin-shing, chairman of Mongolia Energy Corporation, who acquired nearly two hectares to develop as a private retreat last year, did not reply to inquiries about the proposal. Lo's site was heavily excavated last year to form two artificial lakes, which are still there.
Cheung Hok-ming, deputy chief of Heung Yee Kuk, which represents indigenous villagers' rights, feared the proposal will see dozens of other enclaves made into country parks, too. 'Officials should make clear what they are going to do with these remaining sites,' he said.
Dr Ng Cho-nam, a board member who supported the proposal, said: 'Land-use zoning is too passive, and it is not backed by resources and manpower.' Ng urged the government to come up with plans like eco-tourism to revitalise the area and ease opposition from local villagers.
Wong Ka-chai, head of Wong T. Lap Foundation, which has hired an architect to draft a proposal for Sai Wan, cautiously welcomed the plan. He said that improving local livelihoods was crucial: 'We don't want to see again villagers fighting each other over business disputes in the area.'
The extent, in hectares, covered by Sai Kung East Country Park. The area once included 16 villages, of which only a few are now inhabited