Sai Kung Country Park residents who oppose the controversial project say the move is a victory for the environment A developer whose identity is being kept secret by the government has withdrawn controversial plans to build a major religious theme park in a remote valley in Sai Kung Country Park. The decision has been hailed by conservationists and the few residents of the area as a key victory for the environment. The attempt to transfer a disused old temple from Sha Tin and set it up as the centrepiece of a 25,000squaremetre complex between the villages of Uk Tau and Ko Tong had caused furious controversy for more than two years. Throughout that time, government agencies and departments refused to identify the developer, investors or the applicant who had lodged the plan. They said they had to protect the privacy of the project proponents, although the proposal involved obtaining public land for a private development through a land-exchange deal. A spokesman for the Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau said the original application for relocating Fat Wah Temple from Sha Tin was rejected in 2002. The development was not compatible with the surrounding rural and natural environment of the country park. Despite this decision, another application was made in January this year to the District Lands Office, Tai Po, which administers the north coast of Sai Kung. Although the proposal had already been firmly rejected as unsuitable, the new application was considered by government departments. This angered the residents, who are a mix of long-term expatriate property owners, wealthy Chinese from outside the area and indigenous villagers. Most of the indigenous villagers from Uk Tau and Ko Tong live outside the area, many of them overseas. The land which was earmarked for the development was owned by people who live abroad, according to Cheng Mau-lam, Uk Tau's elected village representative. Residents last year petitioned against the plan. They claimed a tourism complex might transform their rural tranquility into a 'nightmare' like Ngong Ping on Lantau. Members of the Wong clan of Ko Tong village objected strongly to embalmed bodies, which would be part of the temple decor. Last week, the District Lands Office in Tai Po said it had 'received a letter from the person in charge of Fat Wah Buddhist Monastery withdrawing the present application'. Once more, the identities of those involved were kept secret. The decision was welcomed by Steve Beech, an Uk Tau resident who has protested against the plan. In addition to the small temple, the proposal called for concreted parking spaces for 60 tour coaches and a large number of cars. There were also provisions for restaurants and a retail outlet. Residents say the valley, nestling on the foot of a range of steep hills and divided by an unpolluted stream, is a haven for wildlife including barking deer, porcupines, snakes, boar and pangolins. Mr Beech said one major problem was the concept of values. 'The Hong Kong administration and various government departments purport to support conservation and sustainable development and country parks have been put aside as protected areas,' he said. 'As soon as developers express interest in a part of the country park, the government appears to bend over backwards to accommodate them.' He said environmental impact studies were rarely commissioned and even when they were completed, results were often ignored. Building and construction were rarely done in an environmentally sensitive way, he added. 'There is unnecessary destruction of natural bush, use of visually offensive design and materials and large amounts of construction waste left behind. Hong Kong is in danger of destroying a valuable community asset in the way it is mismanaging its country parks.' He said he was greatly relieved that the application had been withdrawn. Another Uk Tau resident, Anthony Wilkinson, said the authorities tasked with maintaining such jewels as country parks showed little understanding of conservation. 'They seem only capable of replicating within the country parks the same concrete jungle and visual eyesores that exist outside,' he said. The chairman of the Tai Po Environmental Association, Yau Wing-kwong, said the withdrawal was a victory for common sense. Friends of the Earth director Mei Ng said environmental protection was not a spectator sport, but demanded a genuine sense of civic duty and unwavering will power. 'We've been campaigning for 20 years to defend Hong Kong's fragile environment against the overwhelming pressure of land thirst and economic greed,' she said, noting there had been defeats with a few victories in between.