I wish to highlight the underlying planning and land issues related to the proposed development of a huge columbarium at Sha Lo Tung.
The development proposal is for four major buildings to be erected to house 60,000 niches. At a rate of HK$100,000 per niche, this will generate revenue of HK$6 billion and require the developer to pay to the government a HK$3 billion land premium for the direct grant by private treaty of some four hectares of highly ecologically sensitive government land to enable this scheme to proceed.
There is no land exchange involved as all the private land in Sha Lo Tung is to remain in private hands.
Why on earth is the administration selling off such a site in such a location with so little in return other than generating super profits for the developer and a huge premium for itself?
In 2004 and again in 2010, Sha Lo Tung was ranked by separate government studies to be second only to Mai Po as the most important ecological site in Hong Kong. So it is inexplicable that officials are even considering such a lousy deal when it is blindingly obvious that there should be no development at all in Sha Lo Tung and that the most appropriate way forward is for a 'value for value' land exchange, to be offered with a suitable columbarium site identified elsewhere of sufficient size to compensate the Sha Lo Tung Development Company for the mainly agricultural land it owns.
In fact, the government has already identified such a site close by, on the former Shuen Wan landfill adjacent to Tai Po Industrial Estate, which could be considered for use in such a 'value for value' land exchange.
A columbarium of half the size should generate sufficient revenue to adequately compensate the developer for the land it owns. This would mean a straight swap of land without the need to charge a premium.
If this were to occur, the approximate 26 hectares of private land would be surrendered and, together with a similar amount of government land that exists within this priority enclave, could then be subsumed into Pat Sin Leng Country Park for the daily enjoyment forever by Hong Kong people under the appropriate statutory management and protection of the Country and Marine Parks Authority.
This is an altogether better-value scheme as far as the public is concerned, which the developer should now pursue with the government.
Roger Nissim, director, Hong Kong Countryside Foundation