TAXPAYERS will end up footing the bill for the extensive environmental impact studies the Government is forced to use to battle developers who have hired overseas experts to fight Town Planning Board rejections. 'The burden of proof has passed from the developer to the Government and that means more cost,' Conservancy Association spokesman Hung Wing-tat said yesterday. 'There will be huge repercussions in terms of funding. The government teams will be forced to employ experts and this will only end up costing more. 'Ultimately it is the taxpayer who will foot the bill. The developers can afford it, but can we?' The Town Planning Appeal Board recently approved a 98.8-hectare development by Henderson Land Development near the sensitive Mai Po Marsh Nature Reserve wetlands. The development proposal had been rejected twice by the Town Planning Board. Henderson was able to convince the appeal board that its development would enhance the wetlands area. It brought in Gary Grant, an environmental expert from England to help design, and then defend the project. The appeal board repeatedly cited Henderson's environmental assessments in their approval of the application. 'When the Town Planning Board rejected the Henderson proposal we did not think the appeal board would go against the ruling,' said Planning Department director and Town Planning Board member, Dr Peter Pun Kwok-shing. 'Each application is looked at differently, but there is a pattern developing.' Mr Hung believes the Environmental Protection Department will not be able to keep pace with the expensive teams of environmentalists that developers are now importing to defend their developments. And he said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which manages the Mai Po marsh, did not have the resources or expertise to compete with the developers. 'The WWF are mainly birdwatchers,' Mr Hung said. 'They can't compete with the international experts or supply comprehensive documents.' Mr Hung suggested the appeal board should open its doors to the public and handle only legal and technical matters in private. 'The appeal has changed the rules of the game to pro-development,' Mr Hung said. 'The time has come to re-assess its direction and purpose. 'Judgments should take place in public hearings. Unless these changes go through the credibility of the Town Planning Board will suffer.' Meanwhile, the Government said $1.9 billion set aside as a contingency fund to help clear up the New Territories would be used to finance clearance of operations established illegally on government land.