Luxury villas may spill into green belt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am


A 350-year-old abandoned village in a Sai Kung country park enclave may become the site of luxury villas under a development plan that is well under way. Many villagers have already sold their land to private companies.

The new owners of the site, including companies J&W Development and Tonway Investments, have reportedly commissioned a consultant to draft a plan to build as many as 150 luxury small houses at deserted Wong Chuk Yeung village. The last resident is believed to have left recently.

Environmentalists say the planned development is too dense to be confined to the village zone, of about three hectares, designated by the Town Planning Board in 2001. They fear some houses will encroach on the nearby green belt area.

The village lies within a 37-hectare enclave in Sai Kung West Country Park variously zoned for village-type development, small-house development and a green belt. It was not designated a country park because it contained private properties.

The green groups quoted an indigenous villager, currently living in Britain, who said village landowners had been offered large sums to sell their land to the companies.

The housing project threatened to erase the rich ecology, culture and history of the village, warned James Wong Ming, a conservation officer with Friends of Sai Kung, which collaborated with Green Power and Eco-Education and Resources in a recent survey of the area.

'It would be better to incorporate the site into the country park,' Wong said. 'That's not going to affect the interests of the villagers as they can still build houses within the village zone.'

Guy Shirra, chairman of Friends of Sai Kung, said a better plan for the village would be to rebuild parts of it for public use. 'Instead of a VIP luxury villa, they can pull down the old houses and rebuild some traditional Chinese homes and turn them into holiday accommodation for local and foreign tourists,' he said.

The village, founded in 1660 and once among the four most productive rice-growing communities in Sai Kung, is now beside the largest freshwater wetland in Sai Kung.

Villagers moved away in the 1960s after irrigation water ran short, due to mining in Ma On Shan. Off the beaten track and 200 metres above sea level, the site gradually became a sanctuary where many plant and animal species thrived.

Recent studies have found up to 47 bird, 78 butterfly and 28 dragonfly species at the site - far more than previous studies found in the late 1990s and 2001 by the University of Hong Kong and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. The village's fung shui wood was among the four richest in Hong Kong, the university said. The land is home to the rare speckled piculet and barking deer.

Li Yiu-bun, who stepped down as village head of Wong Chuk Yeung last year, said while he did not have a direct involvement in the project, he understood that the land acquisition was a necessary precursor to development. 'The land ownership in the area has been fragmented, and therefore it has to be reorganised to facilitate the development plan,' he said.

Asked if he knew there was a plan to build up to 150 small houses, he said he did not know the details or the timetable of development. J&W Development and Tonway Investments were not available for comment.