Court ruling on Tai Po beach a welcome end to 16-year saga
Those in favour of turning an ecologically sensitive coastline into a man-made beach in Tai Po must be encouraged to learn that the plan can finally be lifted from the drawing board. In a much-awaited ruling, the High Court quashed the challenge filed by a green activist, who feared that the proposed 200-metre-long sandy strip in Lung Mei would wipe out an endangered seahorse species and other marine life in the region. The decision has understandably upset green groups, but it put a welcome end to a long-running row.
At issue was whether the government should have exercised powers to cancel the permit for the project. The applicant argued that the environmental protection director and the Executive Council should have done so because the green study failed to take into account the new discovery of seahorses nearby. But the court ruled that there was no evidence to say the area was home to a significant population of the marine creature; and that the director had already made a professional judgment on the need for further study. The ruling is to be welcomed. It upholds the mechanism that seeks to strike a balance between conservation and development needs.
It is hard to believe a simple beach project has been dragging on for 16 years. First mooted by the district council in 1998, the HK$200 million beach with cafes and other amenities was billed as a new attraction for residents who do not have beach access in the district. But a growing green sense means it soon attracted conservationists' attention, with the government heavily criticised for underestimating the possible damage to the environment. The dispute, as in other development projects, eventually went to the courtroom for a ruling.
The beach would have been completed for use next year had it not been delayed. That we only managed to clear the legal hurdle for work to begin this summer is highly regrettable. The stalemate speaks volumes of the growing tension between environmental protection and development in the city. Now that a ruling has been made, it's time to get on with the project.