Hong Kong housing

Green group urges rethink over Tseung Kwan O public housing plan

Conservancy Association says an environmental report on the area missed several rare species of vegetation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 9:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 9:03am

An environmental group has accused the government of underestimating the ecological value of green belt sites earmarked for housing development in Tseung Kwan O, citing valuable trees and a fragile ecosystem in the area.

The accusation came as the Conservancy Association found the government’s proposal to rezone five sites, covering green belts and community uses, for public housing development.

Green belts, located on the fringe of urban settlements, are used as zones to prevent cities and towns from encroaching on environmentally sensitive areas.

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But the plan was approved by the Executive Council, a top official advisory body, and it is now under public consultation by the Town Planning Board, which will end this Wednesday.

The five sites are located in the north of Tseung Kwan O Village, the northwest of Ying Yip Road, the south of Chiu Shun Road, the west of Yau Yue Wan Village and east of Hong Kong Movie City.

A total of 11,260 flats are expected to be built for 31,530 residents, if the plan is approved.

But the green group said the development project would affect 11.4 hectares of vegetation and fell more than 15,000 trees, including an ecologically valued species that had been overlooked in an environmental report, commissioned by the Civil Engineering and Development Department. The report served as a reference for the deliberations of the relevant government bodies.

“The green belts aren’t as ecologically insignificant as the government would want us to believe,” said Roy Ng Hei-man, campaign manager of the association. “For example, in a woodland in the north of Tseung Kwan O Village, we found 16 mature trees of the legally protected Pyrenaria spectabilis, also known as Common Tutcheria, each five to seven metres tall, instead of only one tree as pointed out in the report, and there are also many of its small seedlings.

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“The luxurious growth shows the site’s a fertile ground for the species ... Even if developers pledge to transplant them, it won’t compensate for the losses,” he said.

The report also noted large groups of a valued tree, Aquilaria sinensis – commonly known as incense trees – was found in southern tip of the same site.

Professor Jim Chi-yung of the University of Hong Kong said: “Both species are native to Hong Kong, and they grow naturally in our woodlands and forests. Common Tutcheria is protected by law under the Forests and Countryside Ordinance.

“Incense tree is not protected by law. However, recent rampant poaching by wildlife thieves mainly from mainland China has pretty much exhausted most of the larger and better specimens,” he said.

Although the government’s report advised against developing that tip of the green belt, Ng said it would be impossible to conserve a singular partition as removing the surrounding vegetation would affect the integrity of the ecosystem.

But Jim said: “It is not difficult at all to adjust the footprints of buildings and roads to avoid damaging valuable woodlands or individual trees of high ecological value. A sympathetic development plan can be designed.

“The trouble is that this international good practice often fails to be adopted in Hong Kong. We need better planning and environmental protection laws and effective enforcement to ensure ... the coexistence of development and conservation,” he said.