Conservation officials not worried by zone plan lapse in Tai Long Sai Wan

Conservation officials say they can keep work in Sai Wan under control during transition but activists worry over legal vaccum if bill fails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:30am

Conservation officials have pledged that development controls at Tai Long Sai Wan will remain in place even though an interim zoning plan lapsed more than three months ago.

The pledge came following worries a possible legal vacuum could occur if lawmakers today fail to prevent a bid from Heung Yee Kuk chief Lau Wong-fat to exclude the coastal enclave from the surrounding Sai Kung East Country Park.

An interim zoning plan covering the 17 hectares of land in Sai Wan gave the Planning Department the power to prevent unauthorised development, but it expired in August, prompting uncertainty over what form of protection would remain if the country park proposal was rejected.

A Planning Department spokeswoman said there was no zoning plan covering the area as the government had decided to designate it as a country park.

The bill to confirm the designation - even if lawmakers reject Lau's bid to scrap the plan - will not take effect until December 30.

This left a gap from August until the end of the month, during which works in the enclave might not be strictly controlled and villagers and landowners no longer have to abide by explicit planning constraints over land excavation, stream diversion, land-filling and pond creation.

Under the Town Planning Ordinance, the chief executive has the power to extend the interim zoning for another year. A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department would not directly comment on whether a legal vacuum existed over the area.

She said the Country and Marine Park Board had the power to scrutinise new developments during the transition, while building laws and land leases were also a form of control.

Conservancy Association senior campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man expressed surprise that the interim zoning plan was not extended. He had heard from informal sources that it was to have been extended, he said.

"We feel cheated," Li said. "The government should take immediate remedial measures to plug the loophole."

But Friends of the Earth's Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung was less concerned about the matter. Landowners were unlikely to make extreme changes to their properties even without planning control in force, she said.

"The villagers and the kuk cannot afford to turn a blind eye to public sentiment and spoil their reputation by starting inappropriate works," she said.

The Sai Wan saga can be traced back to July 2010, when a private landowner excavated land behind the scenic Sai Wan beach. The works triggered a public outcry, and the government later decided to protect the site and other country park enclaves that previously did not have any form of protection.

But local villagers fear the plan will breach their property rights.