Temporary zoning rules to protect historic Po Toi
The historically important Po Toi Island was abruptly slapped with interim zoning rules yesterday that would freeze unauthorised development, after hundreds of suspected underground urn niches were quietly built on the remote isle.
A critic of illegal columbariums urged the Lands Department to also step up enforcement against any development that violates land leases.
The zoning plan covers Po Toi and four other, uninhabited, islands off the Stanley Peninsula: Mat Chau, Waglan Island, Beaufort Island and Sung Kong.
The government gazetted a development permission area plan that covered 550 hectares, including 369 hectares on Po Toi. That means the group of islands is temporarily zoned under 'unspecified use', which requires most developments to obtain prior approval from the Town Planning Board.
The Planning Department said some of the islands carried scientific and conservation value, especially Po Toi, where rock carvings 3,500 years old were designated a monument in 1979.
Tai Wan village, on southwest Po Toi near the suspected urn niches, is also a site of archaeological interest. Prehistoric and historical objects have been unearthed there.
Under the plan, only about 0.56 hectares of land on Po Toi is zoned for village-type developments, to reflect the existence of Tai Wan. The village has at most 100 inhabitants.
The Planning Department's move came after a deadline passed for a land owner to remove concrete slabs. The Lands Department is believed to have erected notices near niche sites, asking Splendid Resources to remove concrete slabs by February 28. It said the structures were unlawful.
The department yesterday declined to say if the temporary zoning was in response to an alleged illegal columbarium business, saying it was an ongoing initiative to draft zoning plans for various places as needed.
In 2010, the government identified about 50 so-called country park enclaves not covered by any land-use zoning after a scenic beach in Sai Kung was defaced by excavation. Po Toi was excluded from that list.
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of a concern group that focuses on illegal columbariums, welcomed the zoning move but urged the Lands Department to crack down on urn operations that breach the land lease.
'It is a good move, but it is still a bit late as damage has been done on the island, known for its landscape value,' he said.
The number of land lots on Po Toi Island that private firm Splendid Resources bought in 2007 for HK$3 million