A major property developer is planning to turn Tai Po farmland, including a notorious dumping spot for construction waste, into a housing estate and calling it an ecological enhancement area.
The plan to build 267 three-storey houses met with opposition from green groups that said about five hectares of the site in She Shan Village in Lam Tsuen was buried under waste. They feared approval of the plan would encourage a "destroy first and build later" approach.
They were also concerned the development was too close to ecologically sensitive areas, including a fung shui wood and the home of a rare dragonfly, and that it would destroy arable areas.
The developer, Henderson Land, said it had no connection with the dumping. It added that it would be removing a third of the dumped material later this year to meet slope maintenance requirements. It also stressed it would strike a balance between ecology and housing, with up to 35 per cent of the site devoted to conservation.
A spokeswoman said the company would be consulting the public about the proposal, which it began working on in 2010. "But our plan is still at a conceptual stage," she added.
Henderson is the main landlord of the 19-hectare site. The previous owner bought the land from relatives of New Territories strongman Lau Wong-fat for HK$90 million in 2005. Wheelock Properties owns part of the site.
The developer has asked the Town Planning Board to rezone the site from agricultural use.
The ecological enhancement area covers seven hectares and includes a woodland corridor, a butterfly garden, organic farms and a dragonfly pond. There will also be a visitor centre providing guided tours. The scheduled completion date is 2019.
A land-use loophole saw part of the site used as a dumping ground back in 2004. "The development will indirectly encourage the malpractice of destroying first and building later," said Peter Li Siu-man, senior campaign manager of Conservancy Association.
Li said the proposed rezoning also meant some precious farmland would be gone forever.
Captain Wong Lun-cheong, Henderson's ecologist, said about four hectares of active farmland would be lost.
He also said the surrounding area was already densely developed with village houses, and a study had indicated the area was of low ecological value.