Move to protect enclave rebuffed
The government has hit a stumbling block over a proposal to convert a Sai Kung enclave in Tai Long Sai Wan into a country park, following objections from local politicians over protection of indigenous villagers' property rights.
Now the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which runs the country parks, says it will try to reach consensus with villagers on protection measures for Sai Wan before deciding to invoke statutory procedures needed to incorporate the coastal enclave into a park.
'We consider that a more thorough communication with local villagers and relevant stakeholders is needed at this stage to reduce conflicts,' the department said in a submission to the Country and Marine Parks Board. The board will discuss the progress of the designation today.
The hesitation came after Sai Kung District Council refused to lend any support to a proposal to incorporate 16.5 hectares of government and private land from the enclave into Sai Kung East Country Park. The proposal, raised by the department in October, includes 4.2 hectares of private land owned by villagers or non-indigenous parties at the scenic Sai Wan beach area.
At a meeting earlier this month, none of the 23 councillors attending voted for the department's proposal. Instead, 18 voted against it and the remaining five chose to abstain.
The politicians cited concerns over whether villagers' rights to build small houses in the enclave would be affected after the incorporation and fears that the government would never allow any farming or road development. Some also said controlling land use was a better move than country park designation.
Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a councillor from the Neo Democrats, said he neither supported nor opposed the proposal because the designation could only resolve part of a conservation problem. 'There has been no pledge on reforming the small-house policy or on a sound policy to achieve a balance between conservation and development,' he said.
Fan said the government should resume the villagers' land by offering compensation or a land swap.
Lam Wing-yin, a councillor from the Democratic Party who opposed the proposal, agreed that villagers had to be compensated. 'It is not that we don't want to help the government, but we found that consultation with villagers was inadequate, and that might create a backlash,' he said.
The Sai Kung Rural Committee, comprising village representatives in Sai Kung, had already expressed opposition to the proposal and called on the government to withdraw it.
Conservation officials believe the country park designation would improve management and enhance conservation of the area, which was partially defaced by an illegal excavation in mid-2010 on some private land lots acquired by businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing. The enclave was not then protected by any land use zoning plan. An interim zoning plan to freeze development was imposed only after public outrage over the excavation. The zoning plan requires prior approval from the Town Planning Board for most developments.
The number of country parks in Hong Kong. They are run by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department