Work on West Lantau farm project hits legal snag

Investigators are checking whether tractors intruded into a country park in Yi O while accessing a farm run by Leung Chun-ying aide

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 2:25pm

Conservation officers are investigating whether a large-scale farm business run by a top government adviser and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying supporter has unlawfully intruded into its adjacent country park area.

The nine-hectare farm at Yi O on western Lantau Island - set up by urban planner Andrew Lam Siu-lo, who advised Leung in his election campaign - is not yet covered by any statutory zoning plan to regulate the land use. The area, a farm village 200 years ago, is home to the rare Romer's Tree Frog, official records say.

Land shaping work is ongoing on the farm project which started last year, but a green group said yesterday that a visit on Monday found the ecologically sensitive site burnt down, with tractors pulling over the soil.

Farm manager Alan Wong Wing-kun told the South China Morning Post yesterday that the burning was an agricultural practice to generate fertiliser. He admitted that machinery had "inevitably" entered the surrounding country park in order to access the farm.

But the Country Park Ordinance states that without a permit, vehicles are not allowed to be driven within a country park. Offenders face a fine of up to HK$2,000 and three months' jail.

"I did check the rules, but I am not aware of such a provision," said Lam in response to the Post's queries. "Maybe I don't know it well enough."

Half of the farm site sits on a country park enclave surrounded by the Lantau North and Lantau South country parks. The government has been preparing temporary zoning plans to protect a total of 77 enclaves from damage, since the scenic Sai Wan in Sai Kung, another enclave, was found ruined in 2010, with machinery unlawfully dragged past its adjacent country park.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokeswoman said its officers were aware of the Yi O project and had visited the site. "We will further investigate the case to find out whether any country park land is involved," she said

Conservancy Association senior campaign officer Roy Ng Hei-man said he was concerned about the project's ecological impact on Yi O, where a mangrove, the rare frog species and a freshwater marsh exists.

"I don't object to farming," said Ng. "But Mr Lam should have conducted an ecological assessment and scaled down the project when it began."

Ng called on the public to submit views to the Town Planning Board, which is closing a consultation today to gauge views for a temporary zoning plan for Yi O.

Lam said it had been his long-time wish to set up a commercial organic farm in Hong Kong after developing several experimental farms on the mainland.

"It took me a lot of time to find this place," he said.

Lam said he had reached an agreement with Yi O's village landlords, who no longer live there, to set up a farm for 30 years. The first seeds will be sown in March to grow rice.

"I did not come across any information that Yi O is ecologically sensitive," said Ng. "If the government and green groups have not done any assessment, what is the landowner supposed to do?"