Environmentalists-turned-politicians Wong Kam-sing and Christine Loh Kung-wai have disappointed green groups over their handling of the Lung Mei Beach project.
Wong, the newly appointed environment minister, and Loh, his deputy, appear to have lost the battle to save the ecologically sensitive coastline in Tai Po, which will soon be developed into an artificial beach.
Opponents of the plan were given false hope last week when Wong said the government would make an announcement about the beach. And Loh was quoted by lawmaker Chan Yuen-han as saying she hoped to be given more time to work on it.
The Environment Bureau in its role as a gatekeeper protecting natural landscapes from public project bulldozers was no match for the Home Affairs Bureau, which is in charge of the project.
This was despite escalating opposition from green groups and the general public. The beach as it is, is home to 200 marine species.
The government said the public should respect due process - the project had gained permission from the Environmental Protection Department and the Town Planning Board.
However, at Kai Tak, due process does not seem to be the guide for the government as it adds more flats to its housing development plans. Loh indicated yesterday that in the case of Lung Mei Beach, the orders came from the very top.
She said the project received "concern" and "support" from the highest level. The message seemed to be that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying wanted the project to go ahead. After that go-ahead was announced yesterday, a government source said that Leung had directed ministers to come up with a solution which would strike a balance between the development and conservation. An eco-centre was added.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would generally have been the mediator between ministers to find such a solution, but the source also said she did not give any instructions beyond a briefing that the project would go ahead.
"We are very disappointed," said Conservancy Association senior campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man.
"Loh conceded in a meeting with us that the final proposal [adding an eco-centre] is a compromise for maintaining the relationship with the Tai Po District Council."
One environmentalist said the two politicians did explore ways to overturn the decision: "But it's too late. The department has already approved the project and given the contractor a work permit. It's a hot potato left from the last administration."
Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong said Wong and Lau "did their best", adding, "they wanted to stop it but the government has to accommodate the interests of villagers and people with vested interests".
Wheelock Properties' Great City Holdings hopes to build a spa resort near the new beach.