Nature conservationists last night scored what appeared to be a better than expected victory, as lawmakers voted to include a Sai Kung enclave in a surrounding country park. But rural chiefs and their supporters vowed to carry on their fight inside and outside the courts.
A majority of Legco members voted against an amendment to the bill tabled by Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat which would have excluded Tai Long Sai Wan village from a Sai Kung country park.
Lau's amendment was voted down 22 to nine by geographical constituency lawmakers. But it might be even more embarrassing for Lau that the motion was rejected by the functional constituency sector 14 to 13.
The defeat means that the plan to incorporate the 17- hectare enclave into the Sai Kung East Country Park, approved by the chief executive in May, is now passed.
Some lawmakers expressed sympathy for villagers frustrated by officials' perceived inaction in safeguarding their livelihoods.
Some legislators also expressed concern that that there could be even fiercer battles ahead over including enclaves in country parks. Villagers, who gathered en masse outside the legislature building during the debate, vowed to challenge the decision in court.
Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing rejected the argument that the plan robbed villagers of property rights.
"We will not rob [the villagers] of their properties. All existing uses and ownerships will be respected and protected. Applications for new houses will continue to be allowed," Wong said.
He assured lawmakers that villagers will benefit from improvements to local infrastructure as a result of the plan.
Ahead of the vote, Lau told fellow legislators that officials were "violently robbing" villagers of property and land rights. "The land value has already dropped to a very low level. Landowners have been reduced to mere symbolic owners of their properties," Lau said. The plan would "shake" the rule of law and breached the Basic Law, he added.
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, head of the subcommittee dealing with the issue, called on the government to improve local facilities and services, and foster "green tourism".
Elizabeth Quat, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which backed Lau's motion, claimed the government was "driving villagers to desperation".