The Town Planning Board (TPB) has decreed that developers can build up to 30 small houses on environmentally sensitive land in the classical Hakka village of Pak Sha O in Sai Kung West Country Park.
In its judgement on the proposals made by developers and environmentalists at the public hearing on 10 February 2017, recently released to objectors, they sided totally with the developers who own tracts of land in the village enclave and rejected the objections of those who highlighted the fact that any such development would be devastatingly harmful to the environment, both of the village but also the whole Pak Sha O river valley and the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park – see our previous stories, Town Planning Board considers amendments to draft Outline Zoning Plan for Pak Sha O and Protected porpoises and dolphins logged at Hoi Ha for the first time.
In its letter to the objectors TPB states “After deliberation, the Board……………agreed that the draft Pak Sha O Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) should be amended by the proposed amendments for the following reasons:
(a) the designation of the “Village Type Development” (“V”) zone in an area to the north of Pak Sha O Village is considered appropriate, which has balanced the needs for preservation of historic settlement at Pak Sha O and Small House development. The “V” zone boundary has been drawn up having regard to the village ‘environs’, Small House demand forecast, outstanding Small House application, local topography and site constraints. Only land suitable for Small House development has been included in the “V” zone whilst environmentally/ecologically sensitive areas and steep topography have been excluded. Any new development of New Territories Exempted Houses within the “V” zone would be subject to planning control through the planning permission system; and
(b) planning permission is required for land filling activities in the “V” zone, the purpose of which is to enable the Town Planning Board to consider the potential flooding risk of any proposed development. Each application will be considered on its individual merits”.
What it does not mention is that the land designated as V zone was sold to Xinhua Book Company by the indigenous villagers some time ago (Hoi Ha has the same developer). At the TPB meetings it was reported that there was a projected demand for up to 30 small houses to cater for the possible growth of the indigenous populations in the village, even though not a single such villager has lived in the village for many years, and that discussions with the current villagers living outside Pak Sha O showed that few planned to return! Quite coincidently, and similar to other Country Park enclaves that have been subjected to this zoning regime, the new V zone covers the land owned by developers almost exactly!
A number of objectors at the meeting on 10 February pointed out that there was no road access to the village; access is by a small footpath that takes around ten minutes to walk. There is currently no planning permission to build an access road. Questions raised by objectors concerning the building of 30 houses included:
- how will emergency services gain access?
- where will cars park (there are only four legal car parking spaces on Hoi Ha Road and there are currently seven vehicles belonging to residents of Pak Sha O plus a large lorry belonging to the commercial company which is currently farming the previously abandoned rice paddy)?
- Any proposed road would impact heavily on the environment and mean extensive infilling of an area of environmental importance, including many of the streams that feed to river/marine park and the Water Supplies Department catchment dam.
Other objectors pointed out that those currently farming the old paddy are definitely not local indigenous Hakka Farmers, but are mainland Chinese “guest workers”. And who are they working for? It is quite possible that this is another example of developers trashing an area so as to diminish its environmental importance. I would take an educated guess that they work for a company associated with the developers.
After the presentation, it was reported that the non-resident ‘farmers’ erected a series of 15 miniature China flags along the perimeter of the path bordering the proposed building site!
It is clear that the introduction of zoning for the Country Park enclaves is the thin end of the wedge to allow developers in. The “coincidental” overlapping of designated new V zones with land owned by a small group of developers, and not government and or remaining indigenous owned land, seems to indicate that the current zoning concepts are not fit for purpose. We should be pushing for all such enclaves to be integrated into the Country Parks as soon as possible to stop this madness. There are precedents for this; it’s not difficult if the political will is there.
The minutes of the full Town Planning Board meeting can be found at http://www.info.gov.hk/tpb/en/meetings/TPB/Minutes/m1135tpb_e.pdf
Dr Robin Bradbeer is Secretary of The Professional Commons, and Policy Convener, Country Parks.