DEVELOPMENT

Build eco-tourism resort on Lamma, not tower blocks: conservationists

Conservationists want green-themed proposal to replace plans to double island's population

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 3:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 12:27pm

Conservationists opposed to the government's development plans for Lamma are proposing that an eco-tourism theme park be built instead of a residential compound that will almost double the population of the island.

The green-themed proposal would be modelled on the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. It could house exhibitions on Lamma wildlife and the history of Hong Kong's mining industry, community and art projects and even small guest houses, he said.

But residents say the government plan is needed in the sleepy eastern Lamma area to keep the younger generation on the island's shores, and they support the planned development in an old 20-hectare quarry site on the quieter southern town of Sok Kwu Wan.

Watch: Lamma residents voice concern over new development plans

The government plan, a mix of housing and leisure developments, would eventually encompass a 34-hectare area - destroying a restored wilderness area and taking the population from about 5,900 people to 11,000.

But with the two-month consultation period drawing to a close on Saturday, environmentalists say the government's plan may open the floodgates to demands for expanded facilities and it could threaten the area's ecology.

The Eco-education and Resources Centre and the South Lamma Concern Group say they have collected 6,000 signatures from hikers on the island in favour of the eco-tourism theme park proposal.

"We support development. But the type of development with hotels and malls will just destroy the character of Lamma," Stanley Chan Kam-wai, creative director of the centre, said.

"Businesses such as seafood restaurants can benefit the local economy and are not in conflict with the natural environment. The creation of an eco-tourism spot will be a win-win situation," added Chan, who has been a resident of the northwestern town of Yung Shue Wan for more than four years.

The government's plan is to build 1,200 private flats and 700 Home Ownership Scheme subsidised flats. A shopping arcade, a resort hotel and centres for water sports and outdoor recreation are also in the blueprint.

Chan said the resulting light pollution would threaten wildlife including Romer's tree frogs - a species found only in Hong Kong - and endangered green turtles, which nest in the south of the island.

On the other side of the dispute is Ahtat Wong, a second-generation villager who runs a shop near the Sok Kwu Wan pier.

Wong, who has been advocating for development on internet forums, said: "Self-proclaimed conservationists or tourists oppose development here.

"Have they put themselves in the shoes of an old man who has nothing but a piece of land? How can you criticise him for selling it?" Wong sees development as a chance to bring new facilities to the island. "With a registered population of only some 300, the government won't want to give us the facilities we need … We don't even have 24-hour emergency medical services.

"When someone needs emergency help outside office hours, it takes half an hour for medical personnel to get to Sok Kwu Wan pier from the city, then more time to get to the scene, depending on the location. Are human lives less important than Romer's tree frogs?"

Tam Kam-kiu, who grew up in southern Lamma and now sits on the rural committee, sees economic opportunities as well as improved services from the government plan.

He said Tung O village lost a planned luxury hotel and marine project after protests by green groups scuppered the application to the Town Planning Board in 2011.

"There are only a few elders left in the village as the young have all moved out to find work," Tam said. "It was only a few years ago, when news about the project emerged, that some wanted to return. About 30 of them applied to build small houses as they believed the hotel would make this village a resort."