Destruction decried as 1.25-hectare Hong Kong wetland site near butterfly haven is filled in at Tuen Mun’s Lung Kwu Tan

Football pitch-sized site at Tuk Mei Chung is latest to be filled, razed, concreted or haphazardly developed over decades under minimal planning controls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 10:11am

Concerns have been reignited over the lack of statutory protection in Tuen Mun’s Lung Kwu Tan following the latest, massive football pitch-sized filling of wetland near a major butterfly haven.

The recent destruction, in Tuk Mei Chung, is merely one of several tracts of land that have been filled, razed, concreted or haphazardly developed over decades under minimal planning controls.

Soil fill was dumped over a 1.25-hectare marsh starting late last year. By July, the entire swathe of vegetation had disappeared under a layer of earth. Bulldozers, heavy equipment and piles of asphalt now dot the landscape.

Enforcement failure in protected Hong Kong wetlands area

Conservancy Association campaigner Wick Leung Tak-ming said there was an “urgent and necessary” need to impose a development permission area (DPA) plan to prevent uncontrolled development and environmental destruction.

The site is less than 200 metres from a site of special scientific ­interest (SSSI), which covers 6.7 hectares of feng shui and natural woodlands, hills and streams. It is recognised as one of the city’s most important butterfly habitats, boasting 130 species, including rarities such as the red lacewing.

“Our concern is that they can use land for things like electronic waste or plastic waste recycling or storage facilities,” Leung said. “These pose a major fire hazard and could affect the nearby SSSI, which was designated to protect it from such threats.”

Would you go to the free spa at the Tuen Mun waste treatment plant?

Without proper controls, Leung said local landowners and developers have free reign in degrading land.

“It is a typical ‘destroy first, build later’ tactic. When zoning comes, there’s a higher chance they’ll get more land for village development or open space,” he said.

Since 2012, government departments must give “due consideration” when planning and developing in or near where an SSSI is proposed, due to the woodlands and butterfly population’s vulnerability to hill fires and development. The Agriculture, ­Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) must also be consulted.

The AFCD said the department was informed of the suspected land filling earlier this year but said there was no sign of tree damage activity on government land.

“No significant change has been noted in the woodland habitat and butterfly species diversity there so far,” a spokesman said.

The Planning Department said it would review the need for a DPA at a “suitable time”. But it acknowledged the only way to control development now was through building plans, various types of licensing and land lease conditions.

The Lands Department said most filling took place over old scheduled agricultural lots on private land and did not violate lease terms. But a small portion of government land may have been occupied, warranting further investigation.

Hong Kong’s Yuen Long and Tuen Mun to become next battlefield among developers

Records show most of the land is held by members of Tuen Mun’s Lau clan, which includes relatives of rural kingpin Lau Wong-fat. Neither Lau nor his son Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, who succeeded him as Tuen Mun Rural Affairs Committee chief last year, could be reached for comment.

Lung Kwu Tan is one of a handful of land tracts in Hong Kong not covered by zoning, interim planning controls or country park protection.

Its degradation has roots back in 1998 when an 8.5-hectare freshwater marsh that comprised 80 per cent of the area’s total wetland was destroyed. In 1999, several hectares in Lung Tsai were cleared for a golf course and go-kart track. In 2011, a tract the size of two football pitches was razed for an open-air storage site for steel reinforcing bars.