Hong Kong’s Town Planning Board rejects wetland development plan for a third time

Government expresses concern about Nam Sang Wai plan’s high development intensity, human disturbance and encroachment on habitats of high ecological value

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 1:12pm

The city’s town planning authority again rejected on Friday a proposal to build 28 high rises and 140 houses for some 6,500 people in the ecologically sensitive Nam Sang Wai wetlands in Yuen Long.

The proposal was the third attempt to develop the 177-hectare plot by Nam Sang Wai Development, whose shareholders include Henderson Land Development and KHI Holdings Group.

The Town Planning Board last year rejected the plan, but the developer applied for a review, making adjustments to the original plan to reduce the impact on the wetland ecosystem.

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In the revised proposal, the developer reduced the number of residential towers from 29 to 28 with 19 to 25 floors, changed the design of the towers to reduce artificial light and its impact on bent-winged fireflies, a species unique to Hong Kong, and proposed a greater buffer distance between the development and the main dwelling area for cormorants.

The developer also proposed to build a tidal pond to make up for the loss of wetland function through the proposed construction of a vehicular bridge across Shan Pui River, which surrounds the wetlands.

It also promised to inject an estimated HK$120 million into the government’s Environment and Conservation Fund for the wetland’s long-term management, while appointing a manager acceptable to related government departments to oversee the area.

But in written feedback, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it did not support the proposal due to concerns over the high development intensity, human disturbance to the area and the development site’s encroachment on habitats of high ecological value.

It said the development would result in the loss of seven hectares of reedbeds, three hectares of wet grassland and one hectare of ponds.

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Although the developer proposed to compensate for the loss by building habitats elsewhere, the department said it considered avoidance of any ecological impact as a priority ahead of compensation.

A spokeswoman for the developer said the company would take the case to the board’s appeal panel.

“We feel very disappointed that [the proposal] was not approved by the Town Planning Board,” she said.

She said the company had been listening to opinions from society and actively responding to suggestions by government departments and the board, and would continue to seek a way out for the wetland area.

Michael Leven, a certified arborist and consultant for the developer, said the department had been “overcautious” in missing an opportunity to preserve the wetlands.

Leven pointed to pollution, dumping of waste, wilting mangroves and dying trees in Nam Sang Wai due to a lack of management.

He cited the London Wetland Centre, a conservation partnership between the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, private utility company Thames Water and property developer The Berkeley Group as an example of private developers contributing to conservation in exchange for some development.

“To make it a win-win situation, there’s got to be some money for the developer,” Leven said. “We have to look at the international experience and take that on board.”

Leven added that the developer would not change its proposal further.

But Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, WWF Hong Kong’s wetlands conservation director, said the scale of the development was not acceptable and even long-term management could not make up for the loss. He added that high rises would affect the landscape in the area.