A new policy designed to plug loopholes that allow the notorious 'destroy first, build later' approach in the New Territories is about to be tested as a landowner in Yuen Long seeks official approval to turn a site onto which it previously dumped earth and other materials into a plant nursery.
First of all the landowner, King Cheer Limited, failed to comply with an order from the Planning Department to restore the dump site, in Hung Shui Kiu, to its original greenfield state by late May. For this it faces prosecution. However, last month the company filed an application with the Town Planning Board asking for approval to add almost a metre of 'arable soil' on top of the debris to turn the site into a plant nursery.
Green groups have been watching the case closely, particularly after the Town Planning Board last week endorsed a new policy that stated new applications submitted regarding sites that were under investigation for unauthorised development should only be processed after the probe was complete. Whether or not any reinstatement notice had been complied with would also be taken into account.
Aikon Development Consultancy, hired by King Cheer, said in its application that the project would provide a 'green environment to the locality'. 'The ultimate intention of the proposal is to [establish] the plant nursery, which should be encouraged by the community at large, especially as arable farming has been diminishing,' the application said.
The consultant also argued the project would bring visual and landscape improvement to the site and help prevent flooding as the soil would absorb surface runoff.
It did not mention, however, that the site was already elevated by the previous dumping or that it was subject to enforcement action by the Planning Department.
Peter Li Siu-man, a campaign manager for the Conservancy Association, said the board should force landowners to restore sites which had been dumped on before approving applications, in order to combat 'destroy first, build later' tactics. 'The board should make sure the landowner removes the earth materials before considering the application,' he said.
Li said the dumping had already lowered the ecological value of the site, potentially affecting the development of the planned Hung Shui Kiu new town.
Last December, a large piece of agricultural land being used to grow vegetables was lost when hundreds of truckloads of earth were taken from a private housing construction site at Chinachem in Siu Lam and disposed of on a green belt area.
The dumping, which affected an area of about 17,000 square metres, was halted after a news report by the South China Morning Post. The Planning Department subsequently issued a reinstatement notice to the landowners concerned.
Local villagers say, however, that the earth dumped on the site has not been removed since the illegal dumping was exposed. 'The site is the same as it was six months ago,' said one villager, who wished to remain anonymous. 'The only difference is that hundreds of pineapple trees were planted on it about four to six weeks ago. They chose pineapples because these plants do not need much attention. The site still looks like a desert.'
Another villager said he had already stopped farming during the summer because the dumping had affected drainage and caused flooding in his fields.
The dump site in Yuen Long is jointly owned by four companies and 13 individuals. It is at a strategic location in the future Hung Shui Kiu new town development.
Public consultation on the planning application will end by July 15 and the board is scheduled to rule on it by August 5.