Environmentalists are girding for battle to preserve the sanctity of Sai Kung East Country Park. They are determined to oppose attempts by indigenous villagers and unelected district councillors to remove the barrier gate at Pak Tam Chung; they regard the move as a ruse which will lead to large-scale development within the 4,477-hectare park. Similar attempts to remove the barrier have been made before. All were rejected. The latest move came at a recent meeting of Sai Kung District Council, when unelected councillor Lau Wan-hei tried to persuade fellow councillors to lift the gate and permit free vehicular access. This motion was backed by two other councillors, Chan Kwai-sang, also an unelected appointed member, and Wan Yuet-kau. Mr Wan represents the Sai Kung Islands constituency and was returned unopposed in the 2003 election. The last such request in 2002 was rejected by the government following objections by several departments. Police, transport, water supplies, environmental, housing, lands, highways and other officials are all opposed to any change. The reasons are obvious. If the barrier is lifted, allowing unimpeded entry by vehicles, it will encourage development of the many small villages which are within the park boundaries but are specifically excluded from the strict ban on building on park lands. It will also be a golden key for smugglers and snakeheads. It would make life easy for human predators who kill wildlife like turtles. It would be an open invitation for plunderers who devastate the hillsides by digging up valuable Buddha trees which are smuggled to the mainland. It would also allow trucks easy entry to the miles of roads within the park, raising the ugly possibility of dumping. It would permit weekend warriors with their destructive off-road vehicles to churn through deserted farmlands. It would open miles of twisting roads to lunatic road racers. 'Opening the gate would be a disaster,' says Judith Love-Eastham, a member of the Sai Kung Association who has been co-opted to sit on the district council's development board. Wan Yuet-kau wants the gate moved back many kilometres. This would raise nightmare problems of parking and traffic control. He admits free entry would create hazards with cars parking along the roads; there are virtually no parking spaces within the park. The motion has raised fears among environmentalists. James Wong Ming, of the I Love Mau Ping Association, says vehicles in the park would soon be out of control. 'What about the safety of weekend walkers?' he asks. 'There would certainly be much more construction. Even in Sai Kung town you can see all sorts of illegal activities in places like Sha Kok Mei. If people can get away with dumping, building illegal roads and concreting streams right in the middle of Sai Kung, imagine what will happen in remote areas within the country park. 'It's a terrifying thought. We've got to protect our birthright. The parks are precious and belong to the people, but that doesn't mean we should throw open the gates to allow everyone to drive there. 'We have to keep conservation in mind. I've got no faith in trusting developers.' District Councillor Wan Yuet-cheung, who comes from Ko Tong but represents a constituency in the massive new town of Tseung Kwan O, says the present gate makes it difficult for friends to visit villagers. Arguments that the barrier gate prevents traditional access to the area are laughable. Before 1970, there was no road beyond Tai Mong Tsai and the entire eastern region of Sai Kung could be reached only by trekking over exhausting trails or by boat. The northern coast, including Ko Tong, didn't even consider itself part of Sai Kung but looked towards Tai Po; it was much easier for residents to sail up Tolo Harbour to Tai Po than to hike 17km to Sai Kung. It was only when work began in 1971 to build the High Island reservoir that roads were constructed. They were built not to provide access to villages but so thousands of tonnes of material to block the Kwun Mun Channel and workers to build the dam could get to the site. The roads were later extended to link the remote villages of Hoi Ha, Tai Tan and Ko Tong to Sai Kung. When governor Sir Murray MacLehose rammed the Country Parks Ordinance through Legco in 1975, against the furious opposition of real estate developers and rural power brokers, he was determined to keep the countryside intact for future generations. Removal of the barrier gate will ruin that dream.