New path in Tai Long Sai Wan would bypass blockade

Government said to be considering hiking trail that avoids gate erected by Sai Kung villagers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:38am

Conservation officials are mulling opening a new footpath in Tai Long Sai Wan that will bypass a blockade by rural residents upset over the incorporation of their village into a country park.

The measure is being considered after weeks of protests by locals who have blocked access to part of the existing route on weekdays since the area became part of the park on December 30.

The development comes as the government and the Heung Yee Kuk, which represents the interests of indigenous New Territories residents, begin regular dialogue on issues of mutual concern, in particular on the question of how country-park enclaves should be handled, those with knowledge of the discussions told the Post.

Officials have reportedly been consulting interested parties on the proposed route change, which would divert hikers away from the blockaded area.

Sources said officials were thinking of opening a path from Chui Tung Au via Lo Tei Tun to Sai Wan. It would end close to an area owned by businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing, which was subject to controversy over excavation work in 2011, and reconnect with the MacLehose Trail.

But the new route might double journey times to about two hours, as it requires hiking over hills.

Paul Zimmerman from Designing Hong Kong, which works at improving urban planning, said officials might have taken the wrong approach in resolving the dispute.

"The government should recognise and designate established trails for public access. If they think Hong Kong's laws do not give them enough power to claim easement and right of access over private land - if such access has been long established, or is essential - then the government should amend the law," he said.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said that while it was liaising with the villagers to resolve the blockade, it would consider alternatives if necessary.

"The feasibility of constructing a new path in order to provide an alternative route for visitors is under consideration," he said.

In December, villagers surprised hikers taking part in Oxfam's Trailwalker event by blocking access to the part of the route that is on their land.

It forced hundreds of participants to take another route for the marathon charity hike. Several weeks later, the villagers made the blockade a regular practice on weekdays.

Lai Yan, representing villagers in Sai Wan, said that there were still hikers and visitors unaware of the blockade, which took the form of an unguarded but locked gate.

"We might still let them in if we see them. After all, they are not our targets. If they come here for pleasure, we don't want to spoil their mood," he said.

Lai said conservation officers had met the villagers and pledged to work to improve their livelihoods. But since then they had heard nothing, he added.

Joseph Mo Ka-hung, a Heung Yee Kuk member helping the villagers, said the kuk and the Environment Bureau had been in contact with a view to creating a platform for sharing opinions on issues related to the enclaves.

"We received a letter from the bureau on January 22, and are now following up," Mo said.