Twice within days recently the government emerged as the champion of our natural environment against free-wheeling development. Now it has done it again - a sign, we trust, of a growing taste for action to back up words. The aim is to protect unzoned enclaves in the city's country parks from development that is out of character. First, at Tei Tong Tsai on Lantau Island near Ngong Ping, the government resumed ownership after the owners began building funeral urn niches in breach of a lease. Then it protectively zoned a scenic enclave at Sai Wan, on Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan coast, after a businessman began excavating and diverting streams for a private retreat.
In the past few days, the Town Planning Board has protectively zoned three more country park enclaves seen to be at risk, which effectively prevents most development for three years without approval. This is evidence that the authorities do have the will, as well as the means, to head off threats to the beauty and environment of countryside preserved for all the people. This is important when development so often prevails over open space in urban areas.
The latest protective zonings are for three enclaves damaged or threatened, at Hoi Ha and Pak Lap in Sai Kung and So Lo Pun near Plover Cove. They were singled out from 53 still not covered by any zoning plans. Officials did not say why or when they would act to protect others. Rather, they plan to 'systematically' draft statutory plans without showing their hand to would-be sellers and developers. This is all well and good. But they should lose no time in heading off moves to develop and despoil other vulnerable areas in the name of property rights without a fair and proper process to balance public and private interest.
Exploitation of these enclaves is another example of uncontrolled development for which the city has paid a heavy price, as evidenced by eyesores that dot the New Territories such as container depots and illegal scrapyards where once there was fertile farmland and fishponds. More pre-emptive action to protect land will reinforce awareness and public education about the issues.