HONG KONG GOVERNMENT SACRIFICES ITS WILDERNESS AREAS TO DEVELOPERS AND THE SMALL HOUSE POLICY – HOI HA MARINE PARK MAY BE DESTROYED
On 14 October, 2011, the Chief Executive approved the draft Hoi Ha Development Permission Area (DPA) Plan, which was designed to provide planning guidance and to facilitate development control within the Hoi Ha area. 3 years were given for plans to be finalised, and Friends of Hoi Ha and other Green Groups and environmental experts appeared before the Town Planning Board for the last time, last Friday 21 November.
What have Friends of Hoi Ha (FOHH) achieved during their 3-year campaign to protect the Hoi Ha river valley and Hoi Ha Marine Park from proposed environmentally-destructive development occasioned by the undemocratic Small House Policy?
We managed to:
· Bring the Water Pollution Control Ordinance to the attention of Government. It turns out that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has been breaking the Law for years. Regulations requiring percolation tests to accompany building requests in the New Territories have been ignored since 1993. EPD now know that their policy to allow septic tanks just 30 metres from a Site Of Special Scientific Interest (such as Hoi Ha Marine Park) is unlawful. The law is quite clear – the step-back distance should be 100 metres from an SSSI, not the 30 metres that EPD apply.
· Reduce the V-zone where the building in the Hoi Ha River Valley will take place.
· Upgrade the land alongside the V-zone from Green Belt to Green Belt One: GB(1).
· Save the historic boulder trackway in the hillside forest, near the Fung Shui Forest, from being built over – the forest is now Conservation Area, and the Antiquities and Monuments Office have listed the boulder footpath as an Archaeological Site of Interest
· Save the Conservation Area (CA) forest from having zoning down-graded after the Board initially took that zoning away, and persuaded the Board to re-instate CA.
However, this is not enough to save the Hoi Ha River Valley and Marine Park.
The Development Bureau, the Environmental Bureau, AFCD, EPD, the Planning Department and the Town Planning Board have all sacrificed Hoi Ha to the Small House Policy, a policy that is riddled with fraud and corruption. New Territories Exempted Houses (NTEHs) are the most environmentally-damaging way to build because the houses are exempt from building regulations.
What did the Government refuse to do with regards to Hoi Ha?
1. They failed to use accurate maps.
a. Their maps did not show the streams in the V-zone – we had to employ a professional cartographer because the Survey and Mapping Office erased the streams from their September 2014 Hoi Ha map, claiming it is their policy not to show streams on private land (and refused to give us a copy of their policy – they said it is for internal reference only!).
b. Their maps did not recognise the coastal erosion and that the old village walls are no longer 65 m away from the sea, but now a mere 8.5 metres from a beach. The maps show land, where in fact it is beach covered in mangroves. AFCD refused to have a site visit with FOHH and the SMO to confirm that the vegetation was indeed mangroves growing on sand (and not trees growing on soil). It was crucial to sort that out – had they done so, the SMO would have produced an accurate map and the Town Planning Board may well have come to an entirely different decision about where to allow unregulated building. This information was crucial, yet AFCD stood in the way, just as they have blocked every single attempt by us to protect the Marine Park from development. We are not against all development, only the environmentally-destructive kind. AFCD would not support any environmentally-friendly initiatives. This whole mess comes down to them for refusing to incorporate Hoi Ha into Sai Kung Country Park in the first place.
2. The Town Planning Board failed to put any planning controls whatsoever over the original village of derelict single-storey cottages with cock-lofts now standing just metres from the beach. They should have been incorporated into the Coastal Protection Area but the Town Planning Board refused. This means that these cottages can be rebuilt as 3-storey houses without any planning controls whatsoever – they won’t even need to carry out pre-building percolation tests which means there may be septic tanks percolating toxic effluent just 8.5 metres from a beach at a Marine Park.
3. The TPB, aided and abetted by AFCD, refused to put agriculture into Column 2 of the Land Use Schedule. This means that chemicals used by farmers that happen to be highly toxic to fish, and are on the AFCD’s list of approved chemicals, can be used just 5 metres from Marine Park waters. This will have a devastating effect on the Marine Park. The quantity that will kill fish is extremely small, so small that AFCD is not able to measure it – the equivalent of a teaspoon of salt in 10,000 packets of potato crisps. Had AFCD and the TPB agreed to using Column 2, this would not have stopped farming but it would have controlled the chemicals that can be used and protected the marine life in the Marine Park. AFCD refuses to countenance environmentally-friendly farming next to a Marine Park. How bizarre is that?
Of course, all the agricultural land has been sold by the villagers to developers, so any farming will be bogus. The only crop developers are interested in is houses. They will cut down a 40-year old woodland in the Hoi Ha River Valley, drain the old paddy fields that have become valuable marshland habitat, and farm for just long enough to destroy the ecological value of the valley. They will then apply for rezoning and to have GB(1) demoted to V-zone building land. The Town Planning Board is even encouraging this destroy first, apply later tactic. They slipped a sentence into the paperwork sent out days before the last Town Planning Board meeting last Friday:
‘Should there be a genuine need for more Small House development, flexibility had been provided under the rezoning application system to expand the “V” zone”.
This is ominous and of grave concern to Friends of Hoi Ha who had been assured by AFCD, who refused to support Conservation Area, that Green Belt was adequate protection for the ecologically-sensitive valley. We requested the Board to remove the sentence as it gives encouragement for the private areas of the GB(1) area to be trashed by the developers who own the land in the expectation of a re-zoning into building land. I asked the Board if this was an oversight when the Green Belt area was re-zoned as GB(1); perhaps they had forgotten to erase the sentence? If not an oversight, and Green Belt (1) is viewed by the Town Planning Board as a reservoir of future building land, then this suggests that environmental experts have been fobbed off with Green Belt (1) and were correct in requesting the area be zoned as Conservation Area – a request that has been refused.
Despite detailed reports and strong presentations from environmental experts, the Board decided to allow zoning plans for the Hoi Ha river valley that will destroy ecologically-valuable habitat and may destroy one of Hong Kong’s most important environmental resources – Hoi Ha Marine Park and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Hoi Ha was a test case. What have we learned from the failure of the Government’s DPA process to control development at Hoi Ha?
We have learned that there is strength in unity. 27 Green Groups came together under one umbrella, that of the Save Our Country Parks Alliance. We have shared knowledge and expertise, and given the Town Planning Board cogent reasons for protecting wilderness areas such as Hoi Ha. That expert opinion should be ignored is worrying, and leads to the question: who in Government is responsible for ensuring that development goes ahead at all costs, no matter what? Why would the 2 Government Departments responsible for Conservation and Environmental Protection fail in their duties and not lift a finger to protect our ecologically-valuable wilderness areas? Is this incompetence, disinterest, fear of the Heung Yee Kuk and indigenous villagers, or is it corruption at the highest levels of Government?
What is clear is that an environmental disaster is now facing Hoi Ha Marine Park due to Government’s decision to allow a few people to profit from the destruction of something as valuable as a Marine Park SSSI, despite being a signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity whereby the Precautionary Principle is supposed to be adhered to and whereby land adjacent to protected areas is supposed to be properly protected. This is without doubt a Democracy Issue. We have a Government that is run by and for the benefit of Property Speculators and Developers. This is another reason why Hong Kong Society is so divided and why so many ordinary people are totally dissatisfied with Government. Avarice and Self-Interest is taking precedence over the protection of Hong Kong’s outstanding biodiversity in our Country and Marine Parks.
A rare leopard cat was killed on the Hoi Ha road last week. Road kill from an increased number of cars on Country Park Roads, and the large-scale destruction of rare and valuable habitats in Hong Kong’s Country Parks will inevitably have an irreversible impact on our biodiversity. There will be no turning back once wilderness areas are developed and surrounding areas of valuable habitat destroyed. Extinction is forever.
The battle is not yet over. AFCD are now facing a Judicial Review in the Law Courts of the 6 enclaves under their care that they have so far failed to protect: Hoi Ha, Pak Lap, So Lo Pun, Tin Fu Tsai , Pak Tam Au and To Kwa Peng.
Friends of Hoi Ha
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