A stalled private housing development at a Yuen Long wetland might be resurrected in a different form, with most of the houses built on stilts and separated by canals.
The new developer of the project, which is much smaller than one proposed by big developer Henderson Land which lapsed last year, says the revised design will minimise disruption to the Nam Sang Wai wetland.
But environmentalists are still sceptical, saying the proposal by the Fu family - co-owners of the site - covers Hong Kong's second-largest natural reed bed and the design for houses there could be a ruse to get round rules for wetland development.
Seven green groups yesterday met a planning consultant for the family headed by Adrian Fu, former operator of the now-demolished Furama Hotel, to discuss progress on the revised plan.
Henderson's plan included more than 2,000 houses and a golf course covering a total of 137 hectares, including some government land to be swapped for a nearby site also owned by the developer.
But the latest plan is less likely to involve any government land and will cover only a fraction of the private land in the southwestern portion of the site, away from cormorant habitats and an egret flight path.
Project consultant Wan Man-yee said low-rise houses would account for up to 80 per cent of the homes to be built on the site, with the rest of the buildings being no higher than eight storeys. But he did not say how many would be built under the revised plan because the plan has not been finalised.
Wan said the stilt-house design would minimise disturbances to the wetland. 'It doesn't require too much pond filling and it could reduce the disturbances at the sites. There will also be fewer dumper trucks coming into the wetland,' he said.
Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man, questioned whether the design was a trick to win approval for the development: 'The houses might be designed to circumvent the no-net-loss principle for wetland development.'
Under the principle imposed by the government, developers should minimise and compensate for wetland loss.
Association campaign officer Roy Ng Hei-man said green groups insisted that the site should not be developed, but at the same time were worried that the owners would then simply turn the site into commercial fish ponds to pave the way for future development.
The groups were also concerned about how the consultant would assess the ecological importance of Nam Sang Wai, which was damaged by mysterious fires late last year and early this year.
But Wan said the house design would enhance the ecological value of the environment and the reed bed the houses might sit on could be re-created in a better way.
He said the development plan was still being discussed with environmental consultants and it would take two more months to decide its exact scale, density and layouts.
Meanwhile, they would submit a project profile to the Environmental Protection Department to initiate the environmental impact assessment process and file an application to the Town Planning Board later.