Border Barriers fall after 61 years
Isolated from the rest of Hong Kong for 60 years, part of a border zone will be opened to the public on Wednesday - but people who live there have mixed feelings.
While the removal of barriers is welcome as their freedom of movement is restricted - and landlords are especially excited about an expected influx of tourists and visitors - some fret about the loss of peace and quiet and idyllic scenery. Environmental damage can be seen at both ends of a 35-kilometre strip running south of the boundary with Shenzhen.
The restricted zone was established by the colonial government in 1951 amid political tension following the Communist Party seizing power on the mainland and British and Chinese soldiers fighting each other in the Korean war. The zone was intended as a bulwark against people fleeing the mainland. People have to apply for a permit to enter the zone.
The first phase of the opening up includes the Mai Po wetlands in the west and six villages in Sha Tau Kok in the east. Sha Tau Kok town and the famous Chung Ying Street - one side of the street is part of Hong Kong, the other side is part of Shenzhen - will remain closed for security reasons.
The middle section of the border zone will open up from 2014.
Alan Cheung Yuk-lun from Tong To Ping Tsuen, one of the villages opening up in Sha Tau Kok, has ambitious plans. Backed by a rural committee, he founded Sha Tau Kok Farm (Organic) two years ago to buy or rent land from villagers to set up a recreational site, which he says is a HK$100 million investment and covers 40 hectares - as big as the West Kowloon Cultural District.
'The government won't allow large-scale residential development, so we think ecotourism is a way out. I hope the farm can create jobs for locals and stimulate the area's economy, which has been so depressed,' Cheung said.
The project, partially completed, comprises plots of farmland, a small zoo, a war-games area, and a seafood farming area.
Many residents want officials to open up Sha Tau Kok town. Wan Wah-on, a representative of Tam Shui Hang village, said: 'The town is desolate. There are not enough care services for old people and recreational facilities for the young.'
'We living at the frontier feel we have been unable to share in the fruits of the city's economic development. Because of the access restrictions, many have moved out.'
Chung Ying Street was once the top spot for mainlanders to shop for foreign goods before the mainland opened up in the early 1980s.
The Security Bureau says it has no plans to open up the town because of smuggling and illegal immigration.
Officials are also concerned at the environmental impact of opening up. An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said it was investigating Sha Tau Kok Farm to see if there had been illegal dumping. Farm managers deny such activity.
Environmentalists are also worried that the opening up will threaten the eco-sensitive Mai Po wetlands.
At least two cases of environmental damage were found in the bird haven in the past few months. At San Tin, near the nature reserve managed by WWF, fish ponds were converted to become a venue for skateboarding on water. Planning and lands officials say they are taking action against unauthorised structures.
In another case at Lin Barn Tsuen, just outside the Mai Po frontier, lands officials found that illegal dumping took place at least twice on a site that is earmarked for private housing development.
Alan Leung Sze-lun, senior conservation manager for WWF (Hong Kong), said: 'We are deeply worried that a false vision of the frontier becoming a wonderland waiting for extensive development will bring eco-vandalism.'
Under a government plan, the border zone will be largely preserved as a green buffer between developments on the Hong Kong side and Shenzhen. Most of it will be zoned for nature conservation, recreation and ecotourism. A few sites will have low-rise housing. Several business areas are planned near border crossings at Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To.
The area, in hectares, covered in the first phase of opening up of the border zone on Wednesday. It's about a quarter of the frontier