More than 600 hectares of coastal enclaves in Sai Kung now fall under restricted land use, after the defacement of Tai Long Sai Wan in 2010 raised public awareness of development abuses.
The interim zoning of the two pockets of land brings to 18 the number of country park enclaves that the Town Planning Board has put under land use zoning control since a private site behind the scenic Sai Wan beach was marred by excavation in July 2010. The incident triggered strong public demand for plugging planning loopholes.
The board put 34.7 hectares in Chek Keng and 33.7 hectares in Yung Shue O under draft development permission area plans. Such plans forbid any development unless it is in line with the interim zoning or has gained the board's approval.
The plans are necessary to protect the areas from uncontrolled development that might affect the landscape and natural environment, the board says.
Two to three hectares at each of the two sites are temporarily zoned for village-type development, mainly to reflect the existing boundaries of the villages there, while the rest of the land is zoned as unspecified use, pending further studies, the board says.
Chek Keng, surrounded by Sai Kung East Country Park, is a popular hiking and camping area and features an abandoned village. It has no road access and only infrequent ferry access.
Several protected plant species grow at the site, while two common bat species were also found to be using the abandoned houses.
Yung Shue O, facing the Three Fathoms Cove and encircled by Sai Kung West Country Park, is rich in ecology, with mangroves and marshes found along the coast. It is also marked by a large tract of fallow farm land. It is a butterfly hot spot, with two rare species recorded there.
The area, accessible by a restricted road, is home to a well-populated village of about 200 residents. About half of the area is privately owned.
In 2004, Yung Shue O was listed as one of 12 top-priority sites under a nature conservation policy. At least one private developer has proposed a spa resort be built there under a private-public partnership allowed by the policy, but the government did not support the project.
The government identified 54 unprotected country park enclaves - covering a total of 2,076 hectares - in 2010. Since then, 609 hectares have been covered with temporary zoning, including Tai Long Sai Wan, Chek Keng and Yung Shue O.
Peter Lee Siu-man, campaign manager of the Conservancy Association, said the pace of drafting plans for unprotected enclaves was not fast enough. 'The government should roll out all the plans at once, instead of squeezing them out bit by bit,' he said.
Lee said the Yung Shue O plan should have come eight years ago, when the government confirmed its ecological value.
Yesterday, the Lands Department could not provide the number of pending applications to build small houses at the two sites.
However, Lee believed there was less development pressure at the relatively inaccessible Chek Keng compared with Yung Shue O.
Yesterday the board put the interim zoning up for public consultation, which will run until July 4. It will replace the plans with a formal outline zoning plan within three years.
In 2010, this many country park enclaves were identified as not having any land-use zoning after Tai Long Sai Wan was spoilt by excavation