Cheung Kong plans to build homes among fish ponds A green group has expressed fears over plans by Cheung Kong (Holdings) to build a housing project among fish ponds currently serving as a buffer along the Mai Po wetland park and nature reserve. Claims by Cheung Kong that its Fung Lok Wai housing estate is based on a concept of limited development in an ecologically sensitive area have failed to reassure some environmentalists, despite the company consulting the local branch of WWF, the global conservation body, about the project. Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, said the Fung Lok Wai project was unacceptable and was worried that it would lead to a flood of development among the fish ponds, which form an important buffer for Mai Po. The project was proposed 14 years ago, in 1992, and comprises up to 2,860 units in seven high-rise towers each between 17 and 23 storeys high and 54 terraced houses of four storeys each. A spokesman for the company said yesterday that it planned to submit its environmental impact assessment report 'within weeks' and hoped to start construction in 2009, subject to approval from the Town Planning Board. Cheung Kong is proposing to build flats on 4 hectares of the 80-hectare site. The rest would serve to enhance the wetland reserve. The developer has also promised to set up a fund to help sustain the management of the reserve, but has so far failed to commit any amount to it. Environmentalists hope Cheung Kong will contribute at least HK$50 million if the project goes ahead. According to Town Planning Board guidelines, development in buffer areas is subject to strict scrutiny on a case-by-case basis and allowed only if there is 'no net loss' in ecological function. Mr Chu doubted the project could be sustainable, since Cheung Kong is seeking to build twice the number of flats it first proposed putting up in 2000. This would mean the development accommodating 8,490 people, up from 4,900 under the original proposal. He said there were at least eight other proposals to develop sites near Mai Po, all of them modelled to varying degrees on the Fung Lok Wai project. 'The situation is aggravated by the uncertainty of the government's new nature conservation policy. Without certainty, we are not confident that the project would not lead to irreversible damage to a very sensitive area,' he said. Under the policy's public-private partnership initiative, the government will consider limited development on 12 ecologically important sites, including the fish ponds around Deep Bay, if there are proper, long-term conservation measures in place. The WWF Mai Po Nature Reserve Centre manager, Lew Young, said green groups should not have the misconception that all developments were bad. 'What if these fish ponds are filled up by somebody, someday or when the government needs to resume them for a highway or hospital one day? 'We need to look at both the cost and benefits of these developments,' he said. Cheung Kong has engaged the WWF for its Fung Lok Wai project to draw on its experience in managing fish ponds. The developer did not reply to press inquiries yesterday about the project details and its proposed management fund.