Hikers show support for Sai Kung country park plan

Walk across scenic coastal enclave of Tai Long Sai Wan proceeds peacefully, even as rural powerbrokers rally villagers for Legco petition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 5:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 8:04am

Conservationists and villagers are entering the final stretch of a battle to shape the fate of Tai Long Sai Wan - a coastal enclave that is likely to be incorporated into a surrounding country park by the end of this month.

Dozens hiked across the scenic Sai Kung enclave into Sai Wan village yesterday to show support for the government plan to make the 17-hectare area part of Sai Kung East Country Park.

Police helped ensure the event proceeded peacefully after 100 Sai Wan villagers and protesters blocked off part of the hiking path into the village last month, causing unexpected disruptions to the Oxfam Trailwalker.

The village, accessible only by sea or on foot, is completely enclosed by the park, which was established in 1978.

Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying, who was at yesterday's event, said they were not trying to confront the villagers. "We came out to hike out of goodwill, and I think the villagers understand this," he said.

"Many people in Hong Kong care about our country parks, and we want to work together to find a compromise between conservation and safeguarding villagers' livelihoods."

Avid hiker Dominic Powers, who joined the event with his family, said he supported the government plan.

"Under country park management, checks and balances will be stronger and the government can ensure all development, if any, is done the right way," he said.

Rural powerbrokers the Heung Yee Kuk are also set to take action.

It is rallying supporters to surround the Legislative Council building this week in a "marathon-style petition" to show support for kuk chief Lau Wong-fat's legislative bid to scrap the government plan.

Lau says turning private land into country park is "against the Basic Law" and a breach of indigenous villagers' property rights.

Sai Wan village representative Thomas Lai Tor-mut said he would begin his protest as early as today.

"Incorporating the enclave into the park is like trapping us in a jail. The government should compensate villagers or give us a land-for-land deal," he said.

Lawmakers will vote on whether to support Lau's amendment on Wednesday.

If none of the 18 pan-democratic lawmakers representing geographical constituencies support Lau's motion, his bid will fail because of Legco's split-voting system. Most pro-government parties support Lau.

But Legco's powers to amend government motions have also been called into question.

In a letter dated November 19, the Environmental Protection Department told the Legco secretariat that lawmakers had no power to amend the government's motion, as it could contradict the law that empowers the chief executive to designate any area as country park.

But Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said yesterday: "The government's resolution is, in fact, a subsidiary legislation … [Lawmakers] have the power to amend or repeal it."