Lung Mei beach
A controversial proposal to turn, by 2015, a stretch of coastline near Tai Po, in the New Territories, into a 200-metre-long artificial public beach. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying gave the plan the go-ahead in October 2012, but environmentalists and green groups argue the project is a disaster for the 200 marine and bird species inhabiting the area.
Activist puts case for artificial beach review
Save Lung Mei Alliance member asks High Court to scrutinise government decision on project
A green activist has asked the High Court to adopt "heightened scrutiny" of a government decision to build a beach in Tai Po that she says is likely to endanger the life of a rare seahorse.
Ho Loy is seeking leave for a judicial review in order to halt the artificial beach project at Lung Mei, where spotted seahorses, classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, have been seen.
Ho, a member of the Save Lung Mei Alliance, complained that the director of the Environmental Protection Department and the Chief Executive in Council failed to exercise their discretion to suspend or cancel an environmental permit granted to the department after the sightings were recorded. Nicholas Cooney SC, for Ho, said the court should adopt heightened scrutiny of the government decision because this case involved "the most worthwhile goal" of protecting the ecology.
Cooney compared the case to a high-profile judicial review mounted by Victoria Harbour conservationists against controversial Central reclamation in 2004.
When the department applied for the permit in 2010, it provided "misleading, wrong, incomplete or false" information, he said. He noted spotted seahorses were first seen at Lung Mei in 2009, a year after approval of an environmental impact assessment report on the project.
The report was flawed, however, because a study had found the rare species existed in waters nearby, he said. This meant an assessment of the impact on the seahorse should have been done at Lung Mei even though there was no sighting of it at that time.
The report said Lung Mei had "mainly low-quality habitats" that did not appear to be "critical or unique habitats for species of conservation importance", nor did it support significant populations of such species.
The court heard that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department recorded two sightings of spotted seahorses at Lung Mei this year and 27 sightings in four other locations along Tolo Harbour.
"Now we know the seahorses are at Lung Mei, there is or likely to be prejudice to their health and well-being," Cooney said.
Benjamin Yu SC, for the EPD director, said it was too late for Ho to challenge the report and the permit, which should have been challenged by 2010.
"It cannot be open to the applicant [Ho] to argue that there was information insufficiency at the time of the granting of the environmental permit. There is a time limit," Yu said.
He said the report did not include inaccurate information because "there was no statement that there will not be species of conservation importance in the future".
Yu also pointed to evidence from the agriculture department that the biodiversity and number of species found at Lung Mei had not changed significantly since the report was issued in 2008.
Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung, of the Court of First Instance, reserved his decision.
Outside court, Ho said she obtained legal aid on Friday. The alliance had raised HK$160,000 from the public since it voiced concerns that she might not be able to secure legal aid.