Allow more homes or we'll pollute reservoir, villagers tell planners

Villagers in park enclave say new zoning plan will deny them their right to build small houses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 3:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 4:32am

The head of a tiny village in a country-park enclave has slammed the government and threatened to pollute a nearby reservoir - despite a Town Planning Board decision to allow a near tenfold increase in the number of homes there.

Development in Tin Fu Tsai village, part of an enclave surrounded by Tai Lam Country Park, had been on hold since 2011 while the government considered development restrictions. Under a zoning plan published in October, only lots occupied by the seven inhabited houses in the village could be developed.

After villagers complained that their rights under the government's controversial small-house policy were under threat, the board yesterday agreed to extend the development zone to allow houses on 66 lots on which homes previously stood.

The move came despite concerns from the Water Supplies Department about possible pollution. The village lies in the catchment area of a reservoir.

But the relaxation of the rules was not good enough for village leader Choi Lung-wai. He claimed at least 60 more homes were needed on top of the extra lots - and threatened that the villagers would "resume farming" using agricultural chemicals that could pollute the Tai Lam reservoir downstream.

"We have over 700 indigenous male adult villagers who have not yet applied to build small houses. What can they do if there is no available land?" Choi asked, referring to the small-house policy, which grants male indigenous villagers over the age of 18 the right to build three-storey homes on village land.

The policy is hugely contentious as many of those who take advantage of it live overseas or in urban areas and cash in on the developments.

Yesterday's decision came against a backdrop of wider conflict between New Territories villagers and the authorities over villages in country park enclaves. On Wednesday, members of the Heung Yee Kuk protested outside the Legislative Council over plans to incorporate Tai Long Sai Wan into the surrounding Sai Kung East Country Park. Lawmakers voted down a proposal to block the incorporation, which villagers say will adversely affect their rights as property owners.

Under a plan released in October, the majority of the enclave that includes Tin Fu Tsai would have been zoned as green belt, with a small area designated a conservation zone and the area for development restricted.

The board's decision yesterday means adult male villagers who no longer live in Tin Fu Tsai will be able to apply to the Lands Department to build houses on the 66 sites without applying to the board for a change in zoning.

The amendment means the area of green belt will be reduced from 53.43 to 53.05 hectares, while the conservation area would be reduced from 1.07 to 1.04 hectares, accounting for 97.34 per cent and 1.91 per cent of the whole area, respectively.

Save Our Country Parks, a coalition of green groups, yesterday urged the government to extend the validity of the existing plan for another year to allow more time for detailed assessment of the area, and to consider incorporating it into the country park.