Earlier this month, the government announced plans to transform Lau Fau Shan into a one-stop, eco-cultural tourist destination. Located in Tin Shui Wai, in the northwestern New Territories, the rural town possesses the only oyster farm in Hong Kong plus wetland conservation sites. Local business leaders welcome the plan and hope it will restore the fishing village to its former glory, but some are worried that development may do more harm than good to the area. Lau Fau Shan’s heyday was in the 70s and 80s when it was well known for its seafood, in particular, fresh oysters from the local farm. The seafood was considered particularly good because the farm was located at Deep Bay, a place where the fresh water from the Pearl River meets the sea. But industrial development increased water pollution in the Pearl River Delta until the Deep Bay oysters were no longer suitable for human consumption. It wasn’t until 2007 that the government started monitoring water quality. Results showed it was fine to farm oysters again, and the village gradually won back public confidence. Other factors contributing to its resurgence have been the West Rail, which has greatly shortened the journey from Tsim Sha Tsui to Lau Fau Shan to under an hour, and the popularity of the nearby wetland park. The old fishing town is also famous for its stunning sunset views over the wetlands and Deep Bay. The Planning Department’s eco-park proposal involves 565 hectares of land in Lau Fau Shan near the Hong Kong Wetland Park. Four zones are drawn out as focus areas: the wetland area in Tsim Bei Tsui; the existing fish market in the town center; a coastal area in the west with mangroves and oyster shell deposits; and a green belt next to the Tin Shui Wai new town that might be developed into a tourism and/or residential area. The deserted former Lau Fau Shan police station will be revitalized into a building with restaurants and an exhibition space that illustrates the history of the local oyster farms. It will also connect with a big piazza in front of the fish market, creating an area suitable for shopping and dining. The development will see significant changes for the community but not everyone is totally happy. Mrs. Shek is a fishmonger who has been selling seafood from her trolley at the local market for the past two decades. She worries there may be tighter restrictions after the renovations and that hawkers like her may not be able to continue their businesses. As with many development projects in Hong Kong, there is also a residential aspect. According to the Planning Department’s website, there is “proposed tourism-related facilities and/or residential development with public recreational facilities.” The suggested location for these facilities will be facing the proposed boardwalk, which will allow tourists to admire the sunset over the west coast. It will be in front of Tin Shui Wai new town, facing the Lau Fau Shan fish market. But concerns have been raised about the land that is being considered for development. Although privately owned, the area is actually part of the green belt but sadly doesn’t look very “green” due to the illegal dumping of commercial waste which has occurred over the last few years. We asked the Planning Department if the illegal dumping will result in a change of land use and therefore stop the area being considered part of the green belt. They did not answer our specific question but instead said that this area “has potential to be developed as a new gateway to Lau Fau Shan and this area can also provide more recreational facilities to serve the wider community,” and “tourism-related facilities and/or residential development with public recreational facilities can be considered in this area.” There are also concerns about congestion. If the plan is a success then it could attract thousands more people to the area but traffic is already a problem due to all the trucks from the many open container storage sites which surround Lau Fau Shan. Fung Wing-kau, the chairman of the Lau Fau Shan Chamber of Commerce, thinks that increased traffic combined with these heavy trucks could result in more traffic jams. He says: “The trucks occupy the roads a lot. I hope the government has a plan to improve the road network.” But this may not be easy as indigenous villagers own much of the area and they might not want to give up their land for the construction of roads. Visitors to this supposed serene eco-park may also be less than happy to be faced with big trucks and container storage sites. Lau Kar-lun is the chef at the Happy Seafood Restaurant. He grew up in Lau Fau Shan and inherited the renowned local eatery from his father. Over the years he has seen the area change a lot and says he is saddened to see the countryside contaminated by all the congestion and pollution. “In the past there weren’t any container sites. Now people wonder if they’ve come to the wrong place when they see all these trucks.” The Planning Department says it has received requests from the public to phase out the open storage sites but do not have a solution. At present they are investigating the possibility of a new access road connecting Lau Fau Shan and the Wetland Park. For eco-tourists, the government proposes building a nature trail at the wetland in Tsim Bei Tsui toward the northeast of Lau Fau Shan, an ecologically sensitive area preserved under an international conservation treaty. Currently there is a road on one side of the wetland used by bird watchers or visiting tourists, but the future trail will connect with the existing road and circle the entire site. Alex Leung from WWF is concerned, saying: “The proposed trail will be built on the ‘gei wei’ (square ponds) of the wetland and it’s a delicate habitat; a lot of water birds feed on the fish in those ponds. At present, if the birds want to hide away from people, they can retreat to the side without roads. But in the future they won’t be able to because the land will be circled by the trail.” So although the trail is being built to allow people a closer look at the water birds, the disturbance might actually drive them away. The consultation period has just started. We have two months to raise our concerns and opinions. A public forum will be held on March 27 at the Lau Fau Shan Rest Garden. For details, please go to www.pland.gov.hk .