Wetland homes get 'second chance'

Officials vowed builders' fourth deferral would be their last; now government secures new delay

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 4:07am

A controversial proposal for a housing development on wetland in Yuen Long will get "a second chance" to be heard by town-planning advisers after they deferred a decision on whether to approve the project.

The scheme at Fung Lok Wai received an unusual deferral from the Town Planning Board to hold off its decision for two more months, until October, so that government bodies have time to study information submitted by the developer at the last moment.

The move extends the validity of Cheung Kong subsidiary Mutual Luck's application to build 19 residential towers and a wetland reserve on the 80-hectare wetland site.

This time, the deferral was requested by the Planning Department instead of the developer, which had previously sought four deferrals, the last of which was granted in April and expired on August 2.

The board had expressed its dismay over the repeated deferrals that it had granted the developer - lasting seven months in all - and ruled there should be no further deferral.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of environmental group Green Sense, was unaware of the latest turn of events that happened last Friday.

He urged the board to explain its decision clearly, saying there was no apparent reason the developer should be given a second chance.

"It is unusual for the government to seek deferral for the developer," Tam said. "It is quite fishy and the board should justify its decision."

Board member Chan Fuk-cheung said that while it was a discretionary decision, it was also a normal one. "In general, we will allow a deferral; there is nothing [unusual]," he said. The department said the latest deferral would be the very last one, barring "very special circumstances" that it did not specify.

It said the deferral would allow it as well as other government departments to study supplementary information provided by Cheung Kong just days before the board was due to meet last Friday. The board had requested the information in April, it added.

A spokesman for Cheung Kong said the information was submitted upon the request of the department on July 25 and 29. It comprised elaboration and clarifications on the application, he said.

Chan said when supplementary information was submitted late, the government would need time to circulate it among the relevant departments for comments.

He would not say if the new information was so critical that without it the board could not make an informed decision on the application.

According to the department, Mutual Luck submitted more information tackling concerns on proposed landscaping and road widening. The developer also provided some updated photomontages.

Board guidelines allow a deferral if there are outstanding "major technical issues" to be resolved and information essential to the considerations of the board.

WWF Hong Kong, which earlier quit its partnership with Cheung Kong on the project, declined to comment.