Rare fish wins home in NT development - but 770 flats have to go

Plan to preserve rose bitterling habitat means the HK$120 billion project can go ahead, minus a few blocks of units in New Territories

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 9:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 10:33am

About 770 planned new flats will be sacrificed to preserve the habitat of a tiny, rare fish found at the site of the planned dual new town development in the northeast New Territories.

The measure to protect the rose bitterling is set out in the environmental impact report for the towns at Kwu Tung North and Fanling North that was approved by the Advisory Council on the Environment on Monday.

Flats were to have been built over three of four abandoned river meanders – left by flood-protection works on the Ng Tung River – where the fish have been found. But one more of the waterways will now be protected and any of the fish in the other two will be moved to the protected ones or to a planned new nature park nearby.

The approval means the Director of Environmental Protection Department can issue a permit for the HK$120 billion development to house 170,000 people, and work will be able to start after funding is secured from the legislature.

But it has disappointed residents affected by the development who had urged the council to scrap the report, citing the lack of a full Chinese version of the document as well as deficiencies in the assessment.

About 200 residents protested in Wan Chai on Monday against the report.

“More than 10,000 people have been living there for hundreds of years. We are part of the environment, but when it comes to conservation, only birds or fish are the concerns,” protester Lee Siu-wah said.

Council chairman Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing, insisted that members had met the due diligence requirements by asking the project proponent, the Civil Engineering and Development Department, to abide by conditions set on preservation of the fish, soil treatment, egret-habitat compensation and tree planting.

“These conditions are there to make sure that all concerns are satisfied before they can start work,” he said.

“We understand the community is very concerned about how this project will proceed and they also worry that once conditions are set, they are just words on paper. But this is not the case.”

The changes mean that seven housing blocks with 770 flats – 1.3 per cent of the total 60,000 flats proposed – will be removed from the development.

The rose bitterling is found at only six places in Hong Kong.

Project consultant Michael Leven said it was thought to be an introduced species, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature could not ascertain its status because of a lack of data.

The newly protected meander will be zoned as conservation area and designated a replacement for an egretry on Man Kam To Road that will be cleared.

In other changes, the Fanling Bypass, originally designed to cut across the meander, will be moved and routed over a viaduct.

Some council members expressed concern yesterday about the impact on the livelihood of farmers in the area, but Lam said social impact was outside their terms of reference.