Planners have decided to shrink the areas in two remote country park enclaves where villagers will be able to build houses without going through government red tape.
The decision by the Town Planning Board yesterday to reduce the size of the proposed village house development areas in Pak Lap and So Lo Pun came after the board reviewed public comments on a draft outline plan.
It was welcomed by green group WWF-Hong Kong. "It shows the case we submitted during the consultation phase was very solid and that most of the reasoning was on our side," Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, senior head of the group's biodiversity and regional wetlands programme, said.
But it brought a hostile response from a rural leader who said the village house areas were already too small and reducing them further would stir conflict.
Pak Lap is near the High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung; So Lo Pun is near Sha Tau Kok in the northeastern New Territories.
A spokeswoman for the board said it had decided the areas should be reduced, but the extent of the cut would be subject to further study.
"The board agrees that there should be an incremental approach to the development of small houses and villagers could also apply to build houses on agricultural land," she said.
The latter approach, under section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance, requires rezoning and a public consultation.
Heung Yee Kuk executive member Li Yiu-ban, who has represented villages in the enclaves, said the village zones were not big enough in the original draft plans. "Shrinking them even more will stunt the potential for these villages to develop. There will be lots of conflict between villagers, many of whom want to move back, or provide a [small] house for their next generation."
While welcoming the decision, Lau wanted the board to freeze small house numbers at existing levels to minimise the impact on the environment.
"There is no need to expand the village zone as many of the village houses there at the moment are abandoned," he added.
The original draft for So Lo Pun allowed up to 4.12 hectares of land on which to build up to 132 small houses - enough to house 1,000 people. So Lo Pun is almost deserted, without any road access.
A draft for Pak Lap originally proposed allowing up to 2.37 hectares, enough for 79 small houses. The Pak Lap village, with a population of less than 50, has a road but its use requires a permit.
Both areas have been ruled out for incorporation into the country parks by conservation officials, who cited concerns about private land ownership.
Also yesterday, the board upheld its decision on the boundary and size of the village development area in Hoi Ha, Sai Kung, but quashed an earlier proposal to turn a conservation area into green-belt land. The village zone has a size of about 1.95 hectares.