The mixed reactions to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's decision to go ahead with his predecessor's plans to create an artificial public beach in an ecologically sensitive area in Tai Po are to be expected. For nature lovers, the 200-metre-long sandy beach at Lung Mei is no doubt a disaster to the endangered species found in its habitat. But those in favour of building more recreational facilities for people to enjoy applauded the chief executive's determination to turn the 14-year-old project into reality.
There is no question that a man-made beach is a serious human intervention that warrants careful consideration. This is why the project has dragged on for years under the helm of chief executives Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. It has followed the standard procedures, including consultation, planning, environmental impact assessment and funding approval by the legislature. However, green groups criticised officials for ignoring their concerns. The tussle is even escalating into a political row, with some saying the project is being used as a weapon to undermine Leung's authority.
Now that the government has decided to press ahead with the HK$200 million project, it is important that the negative impact be minimised as promised. It remains unclear whether the proposal to relocate marine species into similar habitats nearby will work. Close monitoring is therefore essential. The Leung team appears to be well aware of the growing environmental awareness and has pledged extra conservation efforts. The comprehensive conservation plan covering the entire Ting Kok coastline is a positive step forward.
The controversy underlines the need to strike a proper balance between conservation and development. While building at the expense of the environment should not be encouraged, concerns over the environment should not become an obstacle to development. A correct balance is the key. The government should demonstrate to the people that it has the commitment and expertise to do so.