More than 200 conservationists and villagers voted with their feet yesterday against a plan to build dozens of houses at the Sai Kung coastal village of Hoi Ha.
They took part in a 4.8-kilometre hike in which they also called for an end to the practice of property developers destroying the ecological value of land on the pretence of farming before seeking building permission.
Save Our Country Parks, an alliance of 20 green groups, will submit a petition to the Town Planning Board at the end of next month, when public consultation on where in Hoi Ha houses can be built ends. The draft zoning plan allocated a 2.5-hectare area in the centre of Hoi Ha for development under the small-house policy, which allows indigenous male villagers to build three-storey homes.
The alliance, which organised the hike from Tai Tan village to Hoi Ha, is also calling for a change to conservation laws that do not require landowners to get permission to farm.
"It's being abused now by developers who are buying plots of land and then clearing them of anything of ecological interest on the grounds that they're farming," Friends of Hoi Ha secretary David Newbery said, adding that this had happened to paddy fields in neighbouring Pak Sha O, making it easier for the developers to gain building permission.
Newbery said he was afraid developers would bulldoze land in Hoi Ha before the consultation ended, adding it could happen tomorrow.
Hoi Ha attracts 100,000 visitors a year and overlooks Hoi Ha Marine Park, a site of special scientific interest.
John Wright, secretary of Friends of Sai Kung, said 90 per cent of several dozen plots of land in the drafted zone had been sold for HK$40 million to eight developers. "This is actually a fraud on the government and on the people of Hong Kong," he said.
Friends of Hoi Ha chairwoman Nicola Newbery said the small houses were "incredibly environmentally damaging".
Houses built by indigenous villagers are exempt from many regulations. For example, they do not require sewage systems, only septic tanks.
David Newbery said he was afraid effluent from several dozen new septic tanks could wipe out the 64 species of coral in the marine park.