Hong Kong greens urge expansion of river nature park to guard against eco-vandalism

Government should acquire more land along Tung Chung River to better protect rare species at risk from development of new town, coalition says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 7:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 8:54pm

All of the Tung Chung River system should be zoned as river nature park, not just part of it, to better protect it from eco-vandalism and development pressures, environmentalists say.

A coalition of seven green groups estimated this would require the government to fork out an additional HK$300 million to acquire tracts of private land along the banks of the river as part of its new town development extension plan for Tung Chung.

The plan has already received support from at least one lawmaker-elect – “king of votes” Eddie Chu Hoi-dick of New Territories West – who has pledged to throw his support behind any such funding plan by the government tabled to the legislature.

River nature park proposed by Hong Kong green groups to protect Tung Chung valley from development

After lobbying from greens, the government agreed to zone 8.45 hectares as river park in its recent draft town plan for Tung Chung Valley, gazetted in January . The entire river system covers 21 hectares. Green Power senior conservation manager Henry Lui Tak-hang said partial zoning was not enough.

“The land along the river banks and estuary is mostly zoned as coastal protection area or conservation area,” he said. “But as everyone knows, if they are in private hands, the government has difficulties stopping acts of ecological destruction.”

It is estimated that 13 per cent of land in the valley has been ecologically degraded compared with 4.8 per cent in 2007.

In recent years this has mostly taken the form of dumping, filling, fly-tipping and vegetation clearing. Degraded land, or brown belt land, is often used as scrapyards or open-air car or container parks, until development opportunities arise.

This has increased the threat to the river’s rich biodiversity. According to WWF-Hong Kong and the Bird Watching Society, the river boasts rare or endangered flora and fauna including Chinese horseshoe crabs, seaweed pipefish, Philippine neon goby, Swinhoe’s egret, Eurasian eagle owl and collared crow.

Paul Zimmerman of urban planning concern group Designing Hong Kong said it “made no sense” for the government to zone much of the area for conservation if it was not willing to spend money to protect and manage it.

The Town Planning Board said the 8.5-hectare river park could protect and retain the existing natural landscape, ecological and topographic features of the ecologically important Tung Chung Stream, while providing flood prevention and serving education and research purposes.

The board begins hearing representations and comments for the draft Tung Chung Valley outline zoning plan next Thursday.