Discovery Bay residents to protest at loss of rural trail

Unexplained closure and partial destruction further strains relationship with developer

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 2:49am

Discovery Bay residents will stage a protest rally today over the unexplained blocking of a popular hiking and cycling trail with tonnes of concrete blocks and boulders.

Part of the trail, which leads to the nearby Trappist Monastery and over the hills to Mui Wo, has been destroyed, while a massive site-clearing operation is going on behind barriers alongside with no hint of the purpose.

Calls are mounting for an explanation from Hong Kong Resort Company (HKR), developer and manager of the Lantau town, amid questions about whether the work complies with the company's land lease.

"The residents are kept in total darkness about projects being planned around them. This is unheard of in a decent society, but in DB it's the norm under which HKR operates," resident Peter Esschert said.

The works have further strained the relationship between the developer and some residents, who have complained about insufficient services - such as the ferry service to and from Mui Wo - and a policy that discourages cycling.

Residents will meet a district councillor today to discuss possible steps to protect the trail, and afterwards hold a protest rally.

Hong Kong Resort Co said the trail had been closed to protect its private property and the public's safety during construction work, of which it gave no details.

It said the trail was not an official one and the government had confirmed that the work complied with the land lease.

"HKR will announce information about new developments in Discovery Bay when available and appropriate. But for the time being, I am afraid that we have nothing to announce," a spokesman said.

The Lands Department said the trail was on private land and was not among the recreational facilities required in the land grant of the Discovery Bay development.

Rumours are circulating that luxury housing will be built on the site.

It remains unclear whether the trail was one of the replacement recreational facilities pledged by the developer when it sought approval from the government to delete a public golf course from its master layout plan in the 1970s and '80s.

Resident and mountain biker Aldo deCola said destruction of the trail was just one more blow on top of the hostility shown by the developer to cyclists.

"This trail has been in existence for at least 30 years, as far as I know. Now, with the stroke of a bulldozer and without any consultation, HKR has wiped it off Hong Kong maps," he said.

Bernard Murphy, who moved to Discovery Bay in 2004 and uses the trail regularly, described the blockage and damage - which he discovered only last Sunday - as "tragic and sad".

Amy Yung Wing-sheung, a district councillor returned by the community, said she had already received about two dozen complaints about the trail closure.

She has written to the Lands Department to check if the blockage is in line with the land lease.

Yung said residents were increasingly dissatisfied about the community being deprived of recreational facilities, and said the loss of the trail would further aggravate matters. "The population has grown since 2004 but the facilities available seem to be diminishing," she said.

HKR has a history of controversial land-use issues.