The developer of a low density housing project in Yuen Long is under fire again for filling in part of three fish ponds that are zoned as wetland conservation areas.
The ponds, outside the boundary of the Wo Shang Wai development, have been filled with soil in what Henderson Land calls a 'temporary solution' to allow hoardings to be put up around the site to protect the ecology. But the work worried a resident in Palm Spring, who accuses the developer of not taking steps to minimise disturbance. Up to 50 rare black-faced spoonbills regularly visited the ponds earlier this month.
Nine days ago three excavators and eight trucks were working near one of the ponds, while a flock of birds, including spoonbills, were feeding at another pond.
The resident, Daphne Ma Ngar-yin, has filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Department in which she questions whether the filling-in work is legal and whether planning rules had been breached.
She has previously complained of construction noise frightening away the birds.
Under town planning laws, approval is needed in advance to fill fish ponds. In some cases such work is strictly forbidden. A spokeswoman for the Planning Department said yesterday it was still gathering details about the case.
Ma said: 'I am concerned that this filling-in work has caused a direct reduction in the wetland conservation area, which is part of the important wetland habitat of the Mai Po reserve for migratory birds.'
Ma said the department should say whether penalties could be imposed on developers who damage such sites and the developer should be more transparent about its work and communicate with residents.
A spokeswoman for the developer said it had to fill part of the ponds to consolidate the banks so that the hoardings could be firmly built.
'This is rather an unforeseeable move that we have to take temporarily for the construction of the hoardings. Once the hoardings are built, we will dig out the [filling] material,' she said.
The hoardings are part of the requirements of an environmental impact assessment for the project and have to be in place before actual construction starts next month.
More than 170 low-rise houses and 180 duplex units in four-storey buildings will be built on the 21-hectare site. About 4.7 hectares of land will be restored to wetland afterwards.
The spokeswoman said the developer had an 'understanding' with the pond owners and the environment department was 'aware of' the temporary move. However, she could not say if a formal application for filling the ponds had been lodged with the Planning Department.
To ease concerns about the threatened spoonbills, she said they had hired an ecological consultant to monitor the birds.
'If they have found the birds were around and the work might impact them, the contractor might be advised to stop the work or move their machinery farther away from the work,' she said.
The spokeswoman stressed the spoonbills were only attracted to the ponds because the water level had been lowered and fish were exposed to the birds.
She said it was not usually a hot spot for the birds to winter.
A spokesman for the environment department did not directly comment on the complaint. He only said they had started to investigate the complaint and would follow up with the developer.
He said the developer was required to meet conditions laid down in the environmental permit issued it in September 2008, including setting up a wetland restoration area before houses were built and minimising disturbances to the ecology by erecting hoardings and barriers.
A rare sight
There are only about 2,000 black-faced spoonbills worldwide
The approximate number that winter in Hong Kong: 400