THE picturesque fishing village of Tai O on verdant Lantau Island is expected to change forever next year when traditional stilted homes are cleared for hygiene and planning reasons. The Government is saying little about the extent of the development, which was first mooted in 1985. The houses, though old, sport nearly every modern convenience other than flush toilets and a sanitary waste disposal system. Sewage and trash are simply dumped into the creek to be carried away by the tide. Tai O village is protected from the sea by a dam built in the 19th century known as wu yam wai, which in recent years has become increasingly dilapidated. It is not uncommon for the village to be submerged during the typhoon season. Residents claim that although they have repeatedly called for government help in mending the dam, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears - and when the Sunday Morning Post telephoned the Housing Authority, our calls were not returned. Under a redevelopment project, those residents affected will be moved to some of the 550 public housing flats now being built at nearby Lung Tin Estate II, which can house 2,000 people. Also to be lost is the hand-towed sampan used to ferry people across the creek. In its place will be a concrete bridge. With just five months to go until work starts, the Lands Department, Territory Development Department, Housing Authority and District Office are still locked in discussion on how the project should be carried out. Tai O village was developed on the site of a vast salt marsh just over 100 years ago. Villagers secretly smuggled the salt over the border into China in exchange for rice after the British took over the New Territories in 1898. Later, fishing became more important, providing seafood for half of the Hong Kong market. At its peak, in the 1960s, the village had a population of 20,000, but it has declined to the present 2,000 as residents moved to the city. Its fish trade started to fall away in the 1980s. In the promotion pamphlets of the Hong Kong Tourist Association and in tourist guide books, Tai O is described as a traditional fishing village, but that is something residents take issue with. They argue that tourism is their biggest money-spinner now and as such they should receive grants towards the upkeep of the village. Figures for the number of people who visit annually are not available but residents estimate many thousands make the trek each year. ''Tourist guides only bring the tourists to Wing On Street [the main road of the village] to buy souvenirs such as salted seafood. In fact, the salted seafood is not produced by us. It is imported from other areas. I think it's so ironic,'' exclaimed Lai Wong Wai-king, 36, an active member of the community who has spent all her life there. Mrs Lai said the remaining 2,000 residents were mainly aged people who have retired from fishing in recent years. Their children have largely moved to urban areas in search of work. Residents of Tai O sent a petition to Governor Chris Patten during his first visit to Lantau, asking for a fishing museum to be built and also for a grant to maintain some of the traditional housing, but say they received no reply. ''Tai O was such a famous fishing port in the past. I believe the Government should take the responsibility to tell younger generations and tourists the true picture, and to upkeep its attraction as one of the important tourist spots,'' Mrs Lai said.