Sai Kung meeting on country parks unites against government
Activists and villagers criticise the government's handling of problem and say land and rural inhabitants need protection from development
A rare consensus was reached by conservationists, green groups and indigenous villagers yesterday about safeguarding country parks from development.
Debate was heated at times during a town hall meeting where the issue of compensation for land owners was also prominently discussed.
But all speakers were quick to criticise the government's handling of country parks, and its treatment of villagers.
The speakers represented the Heung Yee Kuk, Friends of Sai Kung, Green Power, the Civic Party, Land Watch, The Professional Commons think tank and the Land Justice League. Some 250 people attended the meeting.
James Wong Ming, of Friends of Sai Kung, said he was pleased to find common ground. "I didn't see anyone object to the idea that we need to secure and preserve the country parks," Wong said.
With rural inhabitants sitting on potentially lucrative land rights, there were numerous calls for the government to compensate villagers fairly if plans to halt their building rights were approved. Under the New Territories small house policy, indigenous male villagers have the right to apply to build a three-storey village house on ancestral land.
" If there is any damage from the actions [of the government], they need to be compensated. [The issue is] there is no land for them to develop, to build a house, so they are concerned about when they will be compensated," Wong said.
Heung Yee Kuk New Territories ordinary executive councillor Li Yiu-ban blamed construction by developers - which has aggravated green groups - on the government. Li said villagers felt compelled to sell land in remote areas with no infrastructure in favour of urban living.
Cheung To-shing, chief of Ho Chung village, said: "I feel very desperate about this [situation] as all of us as villagers don't want to sell our land to developers."
Paul Zimmerman, of the NGO Designing Hong Kong, advocated compensation or a land exchange deal for villagers. "Pay them better compensation or allow them to build somewhere else," he said.
The townhall meeting came after the Post revealed that officials were trying to water down the building rights of villagers by incorporating five enclaves into the Plover Cove Country Park in the northeastern New Territories under proposals by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Much of the anger among conservationists stemmed from suggestions by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po indicating a desire to bulldoze small areas of country parks for housing to meet Hong Kong's supply shortfall. Chan conceded that the government is 70,000 flats short of a decade-long 470,000 unit housing target set by the Long-Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee.