A 45-hectare enclave surrounded by a country park will largely be zoned as green-belt land under a government proposal, despite calls from botanists for all of the "ecologically sensitive" site to be protected.
The Mau Ping enclave, an upland valley surrounded by Ma On Shan Country Park, is one of 54 enclaves the government is drawing up zoning plans for or incorporating into country parks.
Under the draft plan, 39 hectares of the site will be green belt, a designation given to the buffer zone between town and countryside. Fewer than six hectares, 12 per cent of the site, will be a conservation area, with less than one hectare of land designated for the building of 11 village houses.
But experts from the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden have called for the whole site to be zoned as a conservation area or even a site of scientific interest after conducting a biological survey last month. They identified 10 plant species in the enclave that are under statutory protection or listed as rare. They include Camellia crapnelliana, a tree species found locally only in Mau Ping Valley and Mount Parker.
The study also identified four endangered or near-threatened orchids. "They are rare and suffering from illegal collection," the Kadoorie Farm NGO said in its submission to the Planning Department on the rezoning.
Under planning rules, there is a presumption against any application to develop on green-belt land, although the restrictions are weaker than in conservation areas. The Town Planning Board will discuss the plans today and decide whether to put them to Sha Tin's district council and rural committee for consultation.
The rezoning process for enclaves, launched in the wake of a 2010 row over unauthorised building work on the pristine Tai Long Sai Wan beach in Sai Kung, has been controversial. Landowners in protected areas say their rights are being undermined, while environmentalists want more sites protected.