Retired senior lands bureaucrat Allan Hay knows all about green belts and the protection afforded them by law.
This month, the former assistant director of lands found himself on the other side of the fence: on a protest walk with 200 others along a leafy residential lane in Tai Po, voicing their opposition to government plans for the area.
The district is home to four luxury estates - Tycoon Place, Casa Marina, Forest Hill and Richwood Park, where Hay lives. The nearby 4.13-hectare green belt on Lo Fai Road - targeted by the government for private flats - is essential to the area, those on the April 13 protest walk said.
Watch: Rezoning of Tai Po green belt site causes controversy among residents
"This land … provides us with green space that we need in a developed area," Hay told the South China Morning Post during the protest. "We can walk the dogs, we can exercise … we have the beauty of the trees," he said.
"It is a 'developed area' - developed by trees, not by concrete - and that is how it should stay."
Hay, who in his senior role oversaw New Territories land administration from 1993 to 2003, formed the Lo Fai Road Concern Group with fellow residents to fight a planned sale of the site for the construction of 660 flats.
Lo Fai Road is one of nine Tai Po sites named in a public consultation on proposed rezoning - mostly for housing - that runs until June. The Town Planning Board will then decide whether to approve the plans.
The Planning Department said prospective developers must adopt landscape preservation measures "to ensure no trees are unnecessarily felled or adversely affected" under official tree-preservation guidelines.
The department said the Lo Fai Road site was a plantation woodland dominated by exotic tree species such as the Acacia confusa, A. mangium and Eucalyptus torelliana.
Hay said: "It is not just a case of opposing the development in this area. It is opposing the whole principle of rezoning green belts. Basically green belts, under statutory plans, are not supposed to be developed at all.
"Chief Executive [Leung Chun-ying] said that in his search for housing land, any area that was vegetated, that was natural in its present state like this would not be harmed … that they would use only deserted and degraded sites. You can see this site is anything but that."
Hay suggested officials take a closer look at brownfield sites as feasible options for housing.