The owner and customers of a remote but popular restaurant in Sai Kung are furious that the Lands Department has fenced off 80 per cent of its beachfront seating area without any warning.
The Oriental Restaurant and Bar at Sai Wan, a coastal enclave that lies just outside the boundaries of the Sai Kung East Country Park, has been a favourite spot for hikers and campers.
But four weeks ago, government workers erected a fence that partitioned the restaurant from the beach.
"I don't even think they are going to build anything there," restaurant owner Lai Kwan, 53, said. "They just want to block it off from the restaurant."
The establishment is a family business has been operating for 15 years. When the Sunday Morning Post visited last week, hundreds of people were walking on and around the beach, while the restaurant was packed. But customers had to sit at the back, away from the beach, which was all fenced off.
A spokeswoman for the department said it had received complaints that the restaurant had built "some structures" and a concrete platform on government land that fell within the country park, so it took action. The department had not seen any application for short-term tenancy on the government land, she said.
Ng Cho-nam, an urban planning professor at the University of Hong Kong who used to sit on the Town Planning Board, said the government should strike a balance between control of land use and the public's demand for services in country parks.
"It could have been a win-win situation in which the villagers can make a living while satisfying the needs of tourists and hikers."
Ng said the case was one of many illustrating the city's dilemma in managing ecologically sensitive areas. "In the long run, the government should review its planning rules and allow local economic activities," he said. "These activities should also be properly managed and monitored to avoid ruining the natural landscape."
Among those annoyed by the fence was geologist David Mullar, 69. He was out hiking with colleagues and stopped for a meal at the restaurant.
"You'd think the government would be trying to attract tourists here as it's such a beautiful place, but they're doing the opposite."
Husband and wife Steve and Kathy Lau, both avid hikers and loyal diners of the Oriental Restaurant and Bar, agreed.
"It's totally unreasonable," teacher Steve Lau, 50, said. "We just want the government to explain why they did this and what they plan to do with this area."
His wife, 46, who works as a secretary, noted that there were three other restaurants beside the Oriental but none of these were affected. "It's like the Oriental is just being penalised as it's on the beachfront and it's popular," she said.