A success story in marrying conservation with development

Landmark deal for ecologically sensitive site in Sha Lo Tung shows that negotiation and compromise can lead to a happy outcome for all

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 1:08am

For a small city like Hong Kong with a big appetite for development, conservation is often an afterthought. This is all the more so when private property ownership is involved. Sometimes even when the government seeks to compensate the owner with incentives to preserve the property, there is no guarantee of success. It is therefore welcome when a decades-long battle to save one of our most precious ecological sites is approaching success. This follows an unprecedented land swap agreement in which the company holding most of the land in Sha Lo Tung will surrender the site to the government, in exchange for a bigger area in Tai Po for its golf course development. Details are still subject to further discussion and approval.

The deal appears to benefit all, in that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department can devise better conservation strategies after taking over the 27-hectare site from the company. Supporting over 60 per cent of animal species found in the city, including 76 species of dragonflies, the area is known as the most ecologically rich after the internationally important Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site. It also enables the company to go ahead with the private golf course project. To further protect public interests, the golf course project will have to go through the standing vetting procedures and statutory hurdles, with the land exchange premium payable at full market value. At least 20 per cent of tee-off times at the golf course will be reserved for the public.

Mile-a-minute weed marauds through marshes of Mai Po, Hong Kong

The non-in situ land swap for nature conservation is the first of its kind. The government described the deal as “unique, exceptional and isolated”, adding that such an approach would not be adopted lightly in other cases. This is to avoid giving the wrong signal that landowners and developers can aggressively pursue projects in ecologically sensitive areas in the hope of being compensated with a larger plot elsewhere. The case shows that conservation and development can be resolved satisfactorily through negotiation and compromise. It is to be hoped that there will be more concerted efforts in protecting our environment.