A controversy has erupted over whether a development cum conservation proposal for Sha Lo Tung should be subject to a statutory environmental impact assessment (EIA). The proposal was yesterday endorsed by the Advisory Council on the Environment as the first public-private partnership project under a new conservation policy that aims to preserve privately owned ecological sites. The proposal involves construction of a columbarium and a multicultural retreat on a green belt near the butterfly and dragonfly haven of Sha Lo Tung, Tai Po. In return, developer Sha Lo Tung Development Co will surrender private land for the creation of an ecological reserve, and HK$120 million to fund the reserve - to be ready before the development starts. But since the plan is not covered by the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, conservationists fear the developer will not deliver conservation benefits in the form of a reserve as agreed. The Conservancy Association wants the government to make all similar proposals subject to the EIA process. 'We are not targeting any particular project,' said Peter Li Siu-man, from the association. But the move was aimed at increasing transparency in relation to all such projects. Advisory council chairman Lam Kin-che said last night the Sha Lo Tung developer had pledged to voluntarily go through the EIA process including soliciting public comment. But since there was no legal requirement for such a process, he said a contract would be needed to ensure the developer delivered. Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power, which has partnered with the developer on the project, said his group had already done a detailed environmental assessment.