Land owners act on Tai Po green belt sites

Two plots of protected land have been excavated, but the owner of one insists he plans only to build an organic farm there

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 February, 2013, 4:35am

As officials desperate for new housing sites consider converting green belt land for the purpose, some private owners are already way ahead of them.

Two adjacent sites in a green belt near Tai Po have been cleared and excavated in what environmental activists say is typical of the "destroy first, develop later" approach often seen in the New Territories.

But the owner of one of the sites near Wun Yiu insists that he just wants to establish an organic farm there.

The formation of the site and removal of vegetation in the area were discovered by Green Power volunteers employed to conduct a butterfly survey there on January 2, the group's senior environmental affairs manager Matthew Sin Ka-wah said.

The Planning Department says there is nothing it can do because the land, despite being zoned green belt, is not covered by a draft development area plan.

But the Lands Department has intervened, as part of the area is government land. Warning signs were erected, although the department said the digging did not violate the land lease.

It also said it had received nine applications to build small houses on plots carved out from the land. The applications are still being processed.

Green Power has warned of possible flooding danger in areas downstream where a man was washed to his death in a July 2010 heavy rainstorm.

When the South China Morning Post visited the site on Tuesday, rocks and boulders - some as tall as a man - littered the land.

"The loose soil and boulders will present a danger to villagers living downstream when the rainy season comes," Sin said, calling on the government to stop the work and force the owners to restore the land.

An investigation after the 2010 tragedy blamed the fatal flood on rocks washed down by the water blocking a stream.

The Water Supplies Department has also expressed concern as the sites are in the catchment area for the Shing Mun Reservoir.

Ownership of the two sites, separated by a vehicle track leading to Ta Tit Yan village, has been transferred to individuals and companies appearing to have no relationship to the Ho clan that inhabits the village.

Land Registry records show that one of the two sites, measuring 6,800 square metres, has been carved into more than 30 plots of similar sizes - a move commonly seen in village house developments. The other site, which is 1,600 square metres, has yet to be divided.

The records show that some of the plots are owned by Invest Pro Limited, Big Team Construction and Engineering, and Ken Hui, a logistics firm director.

Hui, who said he grew up in Tai Po, bought the smaller site in December. "I only wanted to convert it into an organic farm," he said. "I have nothing to do with the other site."

Hui's land is next to another illegally excavated site known as Lo Lau Uk, where the landowner had in 2008 applied in vain to build dozens of village houses.

Sin said that on another visit on January 31, the group found two formerly pristine streams diverted and excavation ongoing.