• Thu
  • Nov 27, 2014
  • Updated: 7:38am
NewsHong Kong
CONSERVATION

No entry: villagers bar access to Lantau bay over environmental 'conspiracy'

Locked gate and abusive banners block path to oyster-rich mudflats in protest at 'conspiracy' by green groups and officials to halt development

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 12:09pm
 

Indigenous villagers are blocking access to a Lantau bay in protest at a "conspiracy" by green groups and the government to restrict development. They say it will remain off limits for three years.

The Post found a padlocked steel gate barring the path to Tai Ho Wan, known for its oyster-rich mudflats and horseshoe crabs. There were also warnings not to trespass and signs in English and Chinese, some using offensive language.

"From now on, you will not need to think about walking through our private land!" one banner read.

Another lashed out at environmental groups for "telling the government to zone our village as a conservation area".

Lantau resident Kevin Laurie asked why villagers had not been ordered to remove the blockade, which sits on the path where it runs through private land at Ngau Kwu Long, one of three villages that make up the San Heung rural community.

"The footpath is the only sensible and safe route [to the mudflats]," said the former police officer, who visits the area to study horseshoe crabs. "Tai Ho Wan belongs to the people of Hong Kong, not just the villagers."

Tai Ho Wan - which means big oyster bay in Cantonese and is now cut off from the sea by the North Lantau Highway airport link - is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Villagers fear an ongoing permanent zoning exercise will see the conservation area - some 4.6 hectares centred on the estuary of the Tai Ho river - stretched upstream onto privately owned land.

Under an interim development permission area plan covering 230 hectares, gazetted in March, the villages' development zones are limited to just 1.27 hectares, which residents say constrains their right to build small houses. A policy introduced in 1972 allows indigenous males over the age of 18 to build three-storey homes on ancestral land.

Records show that at least one submission to the Planning Department calls for the SSSI to be extended 50 metres upstream. However, officials stressed the DPA plan had not yet been approved. DPA plans are effective for three years before land-use zoning plans are agreed.

In a statement, the San Heung community, which also includes Pak Mong, Ngau Kwu Long and Tai Ho villages, said: "The government and fake environmentalists have long conspired to suppress us.

"We can no longer tolerate this situation and … have decided to protest against the unreasonable development permission plan."

An 81-year-old grandmother who has lived in her ancestral home in Pak Mong for more than 50 years and still makes her living from fishing, told the Post: "Our history goes back more than 300 years. It is not fair that we are now being told by so-called green groups what we can and cannot do. We will continue to block the road."

She said the government had ignored the plight of indigenous villagers on Lantau. When the Tung Chung highway to the airport was built, for example, the villagers were promised better infrastructure, she added. "We wanted a few more bus stops. Instead, they blocked off our access to the sea."

Her son has the right to build a small house, she said, but had been unsuccessful in getting planning approval. She said it was the same for more than 60 to 70 small-house permit holders in the San Heung community.

"My son cannot come back and live here now. He doesn't have the money or space now to build a house," she added.

Eddie Tse Sai-kit, a spokesman for the Save Lantau Alliance concern group, was aware of the blockade. He said the padlocked gate's proximity to the village made it intimidating enough to serve as an effective barrier.

He also noted that at least 70 per cent of private land in Tai Ho had been sold off to developers, with Sun Hung Kai Properties owning the majority.

"I have strong reservations that this protest is merely about protecting their villages and right to build," he added.

The Lands Department earlier said it was investigating if the road, over private land, was allowed to be blocked.

A department spokesman later confirmed that the footpath and gate were on private land held under a Block Government Lease. 

"It is not a breach of the relevant lease for the land owner to erect a gate on his private agricultural land," the spokesman said.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

ianson
Let's be perfectly clear: the villagers' protest is about wanting and getting more - more houses and/or more cash from Sun Hung Kai - at the expense of our environment. Their present living conditions are not being encroached upon by anyone. They need to set aside their selfish greed and recognise all of us have an interest in our dwindling pockets of nature.
dynamco
I would bet the Govt built the green railings shown in the photo meaning the railings were on Govt land
Another example of how NT villagers deem themselves above the law whilst our puxxy Govt allows them to buy land & block access/pay me to enter to legally built housing
Any Govt lease allowing building should come with a right of access clause
Can you imagine villagers being allowed to block the access road to a SHK or Cheung Kong development?
Meanwhile Govt should release a study showing how many houses granted under the village house policy are actually resided in by the 'deng uk' 'indigenous villagers families' (many from UK chip shops or Dutch restaurants) the plots were granted to.
MingBaakMei
The Law Reform Commisiion website in respect of Adverse Possession states:
"...The main provisions on adverse possession can be found in the Limitation Ordinance (Cap 347). Except in the case of Government land for which the limitation period is 60 years, no action to recover landed property is allowed after 12 years from the date upon which the right of action accrued. Time starts to run when the owner has been dispossessed of his land and the adverse possessor has taken possession of the land..."
Game set and match. ALL the footpaths in villages and their environs are for public use as there has been no attempt to close them to the public within 12 years of them being adopted as such.
All it needs now is for the HKG to have the guts to enforce the law!
caractacus
The villagers do not want to return to the villages, they want to make a fat pile of cash. A villager sells the land to a developer. Eligible villagers sell their Small House Policy privileges to developers in under the table agreements by signing secret trust documents, powers of attorney and wills in favour of the developer who own the land. The developer executes a bogus land assignment in favour of the villager who applies to District Lands Office for his small house stating he wants to live in it. When permission is granted (practically a rubber stamp by the District Lands Office which should know very well what is going on) the developer is the beneficial owner of the approved house and the villager receives a payment. This is the criminal offence of fraud and anyone knowingly assisting in the scam, including the developers, the agent, the village representative and solicitor who creates and executes the documents are guilty. This is rampant, yet Government does nothing to stop the abuse.
chaz_hen
How dare these "villagers"! This'll totally put the HK economy at a standstill! HK's international reputation will be diminished and HK's core values will be questioned!
The Silent Majority will not be pleased...
caractacus
You have the law dead wrong. Adverse possession applies to those who have occupied the land over 12 years, not just passed through it.
The continued access across the land may have raise other rights of passage, however, but our Govt. is too cowardly to face down the H e u n g Y e e K u k.
caractacus
Fat chance of the villagers not being selfish and greedy.

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