The Town Planning Board has approved cuts of up to 59 per cent to land reserved for small houses in three country park enclaves.
The largest reduction is at Pak Lap, in the Sai Kung East Country Park, where land zoned for small houses will shrink from 2.37 hectares to 0.98 hectares. Most of the rezoned land in Pak Lap - which is now zoned for agricultural use - is owned by private firm Master Mind Development Limited, Land Registry records show.
Housing sites in So Lo Pun, within the Plover Cove Country Park near border town Sha Tau Kok, were cut by nearly 40 per cent - from 4.12 to 2.48 hectares. The two areas that have been rezoned in that village are now green-belt land, which cannot be developed unless there is an overriding social need.
But Michael Lau Wai-neng, from WWF-Hong Kong, said the area zoned for housing in So Lo Pun was still too big. "The village has long been deserted," he said. "I can't see why we have to plan for a large development there."
In Hoi Ha, within the Sai Kung West Country Park, the Town Planning Board approved a 25 per cent cut, or 1.98 hectares, to land for building village houses.
The Planning Department had sought public comment on the three revised zoning plans before submitting them to the board. Green groups had told the board that the previous area of land set aside for houses in the country parks was excessive.
Under the New Territories small-house policy, indigenous male villagers over the age of 18 can build three-storey homes on ancestral land. Villagers say that reducing the area of land where they can build deprives them of their rights under the policy.
Paul Zimmerman, of Designing Hong Kong, said the changes were "cosmetic". "We need a clear statement from the board explaining what the maximum carrying capacity is of the Sai Kung and Plover Cove country parks - what is the maximum number of houses and residents the parks can cope with," he said.
The three sites are among 54 country park enclaves identified as not having any protection in 2011, after illegal excavation works were discovered at scenic Tai Long Sai Wan in Sai Kung.