WESTERN planners could learn much from the Chinese concept of fung shui, an international urban development specialist has said. Michel Sudarskis, secretary-general of the International Urban Development Association (INTA), said: ''The cultural element of fung shui has a very sound principle, which is to try to accommodate man and nature. ''This is one of the lessons that we could learn in [our] part of the world.'' Mr Sudarskis, who is based in The Netherlands, was in Hong Kong last week to prepare for the 17th INTA conference, which is to be held in Asia for the first time this year. The Chinese had long been masters of balancing natural and man-made environments in settlements, Mr Sudarskis said. ''The Chinese have a cultural instinct for living in the community and, therefore, to organise space, but always with nature,'' he said. The first settlement in the world to have a ''master plan'' had been a town in China, he said. Careful planning that paid heed to social and environmental considerations had been the key to the success of Hong Kong's new towns policy, Mr Sudarskis said. The INTA conference comes as the territory celebrates the 20th year of the New Town Development Programme and the first day of the conference is devoted to the subject. Mr Sudarskis said Hong Kong's new towns' experience had lessons for the world. The new towns' policy had put people together in a high density environment with ''social acceptance, economic growth, provision of facilities, and a life for the people''. ''It could have been a shanty town: instead it was a tremendous success,'' Mr Sudarskis said. Careful development and planning, coupled with community and private sector participation had made it possible to create a ''socially orientated town environment''. People had also had little choice over whether to move to the territory's new towns. By contrast, in Europe, people had been able to choose whether or not to relocate and this had put the success of European new towns at stake. ''You may just have dormitories and no employment, whereas here, in Hong Kong, there is always a very careful balance between the functions,'' Mr Sudarskis said. The four-day INTA conference begins at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on September 26. About 100 speakers from more than 30 countries will attend.