A plan by a private developer associated with New Territories kingpin Lau Wong-fat to push through a large housing development close to a country park faces opposition from conservationists over proposed rezoning of the site.
City Development, controlled by Lau's daughter Beatrix Lau Lai-fan, is asking the Town Planning Board to approve rezoning of more than 10 hectares in Tai Tong near Shap Pat Heung, Yuen Long. The applicant wants the site rezoned from agriculture and open storage to village-type development.
This would allow indigenous male villagers in the New Territories to build small houses on the land.
Part of the rezoned site would be used to relocate an unspecified number of villagers still living in nearby 400-year-old Tai Kiu Tsuen village, next to the Long Ping railway station, which is to be redeveloped into a private residential estate with four 27-storey blocks.
Among the 351 small houses proposed on the Tai Tong site under the company's rezoning request, about 117 would be reserved for relocating the inhabitants of Tai Kiu.
The remaining area would be big enough for another 234 homes and would allow Tai Tong village to expand.
According to a summary of the rezoning application on the Town Planning Board website, the applicant did not explain why it was necessary to increase the village-type development area for Tai Tong Tsuen.
There is no information on how many villagers would be relocated.
The rezoning request has hit a raw nerve with environmentalists who have been closely watching land issues in the New Territories amid the pressure to build up the government land reserve to meet future housing needs.
Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said he did not see any pressing need to rezone the site.
'Why is there a need to rezone the area for the benefit of a private development elsewhere?' he asked.
Li said the developer owned only about 20 per cent of the site it wanted to rezone. The government owned a third and the rest was believed to be in the hands of other landowners.
Li said the site was too close to Tai Lam Country Park and the conversion of the site from arable to housing land would mean that the last buffer against development would be gone.
He said the area might have high ecological values with natural streams flowing through; a colony of cattle egrets is within 500 metres of the rezoning site.
Li was also worried that government departments would underestimate the ecological richness of the site if they perceived it only as agriculture land.
Neither City Development nor Lau Wong-fat could be reached for comment.
The rezoning request is under public consultation until November 4 and the board is scheduled to scrutinise it on December 2.