'Shocking' damage in country park

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 February, 2009, 12:00am

Unknown developer clears government land

The government is investigating what conservationists describe as the 'most shocking' illegal destruction of nature within a country park in memory.

The construction in Pat Sin Leng Country Park near Lai Pek Shan and Ting Kok is the latest of a spate of illegal works in countryside areas, sparking calls from a leading green group for tougher punishments.

The large-scale works in the park, involving a 5-metre-wide, 500-metre-long cement access road leading to a level area cut out of the hillside, were believed to have been under construction for at least a month. Newspapers dated from the middle of last month were found in the area.

The road starts near Shan Liu Road and heads north to the excavated clearing. The level area, part of which was inside the country park, had a sea view of Plover Cove.

Vegetation around the excavated area and road had been cleared. More than 150 trees had been felled along the road and a stream next to it. Building materials, empty lunch boxes and water bottles were piled along the road. Work was halted after a South China Morning Post reader reported the case to lands officials.

'This is the most shocking case we have ever come across,' said Alan Leung Sze-lun, senior conservation officer for WWF Hong Kong. 'How can we tolerate these illegal works, either on private or government sites, again and again?'

On Tuesday, a privately owned plot about the size of two soccer pitches inside Tai Lam Country Park was bulldozed and excavated, apparently for agricultural purposes.

Mr Leung said lenient penalties encouraged developers to challenge the government.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department confirmed that about 450 square metres of the clearing at the Pat Sin Leng site infringed on the park's boundary. It has not found the contractor.

'The AFCD has put up warning signs on the government land and carried out regular patrols of the area,' a spokeswoman said. 'We will prosecute anyone found to be carrying or to have carried out unauthorised works on country park land.'

It also pledged to investigate the unauthorised tree felling.

The Lands Department said about 40 per cent of the work was on government land and it was investigating who was responsible. 'A ground survey is being carried out with a view to blocking off the unauthorised access on government land before Sunday,' a spokesman said.

A Lands Department official visited a bridge spanning the stream and posted a notice demanding the unknown contractor remove it.

If no one comes forward to rectify the damage, taxpayers may have to pay to restore the site, the department said.

A veteran conservationist who declined to be named said he was 'amazed' at the scale of the work, which appeared to be as organised as a government project.

'I could not understand the motives of the developer to spend a million dollars and get the work done, despite the well-known difficulty of securing government approval for profit-making housing plans after trashing the concerned site,' he said.

Robbie, a Tai Po resident who reported the case to the government, described the works as 'astonishing' and said she was puzzled by the motives behind the illegal works, though the district has seen a lot of building and road works.

'It is for these kinds of over-development that I might choose to leave Hong Kong,' she said.