BUZZ recently reported a story concerning the overcrowding, and possible illegal occupation of, camp sites in the country parks (CPs). This situation and previous similar occurrences, by coincidence, also raised the interest of one of our Legislative Councillors, Hon Chan Han-pan. He wrote a long query to the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, who replied in the Legislative Council on 1 November. His reply raises lots of other questions.
Chan said it was reported by the media last month that some people had occupied designated camp sites in country parks for a long period of time for profiteering purposes. Other people who wanted to use the camp sites would have camping areas released to them only if they rented tents and bought food from the occupiers. He also found that some people have allegedly occupied camp sites with old and dilapidated camping equipment.
Chan asked the government to state the number of complaints received by the authorities in each of the past five years about the occupation of camp sites in country parks; how the authorities handled such complaints; among them, of the number of those which were found substantiated and the follow-up actions taken by the authorities; whether the occupation of camp sites for profiteering purpose is against the law; if so, of the penalties; and whether the authorities inspected the use of designated camp sites in each of the past five years; if so, of the details; of the policy in place to ensure that members of the public have a fair chance to use the camp sites, and whether they have reviewed the effectiveness of that policy?
In reply, the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing stated that the number of complaints had risen from zero in 2012 to 20 in 2016. He also stated that the AFCD did not detect any occupation of camping sites for rental or food sale for profit.
The AFCD has set up 41 designated camping sites in all country parks in Hong Kong. Staff of the AFCD regularly patrols the camping sites in country parks and will step up patrol during long holidays. The AFCD is responsible for the daily management of these camping sites including the handling of wastes and recyclables, cleansing of public toilets and facility maintenance. The AFCD noticed that there has been an increasing demand in camping facilities within country parks in recent years and some designated camping sites are very popular in long holidays, and to meet the demand of country park visitors, they have improved the facilities of camping sites and designated more camping sites in recent years including the establishment of two new camping sites in Sai Wan and Tai Mong Tsai in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and the upgrading of the Wan Tsai camp site in the Sai Kung West Country Park in December 2016.
This is all very commendable, but as our previous report showed, at some peak times the camp sites are very overcrowded, and even dangerous.
The question that needs to be asked is the visitation figures for the Country Parks and the camp sites over the past 10 years. We are sure that there has been a significant increase with mainlanders also adding to the traffic.
The renting and food selling may be part of the club or group activity where groups of individuals pay money to organisations for outdoor recreation services and these organizations pay nothing for the facilities provided. This sometimes blocks others from using the sites. Some other groups operate from the mainland. Since they handle the arrangement, they want money for providing service. Some are a bit like Air Asia where you pre-order what you want and pay through the nose for extras that you are not allowed to get from others. AFCD wants to regulate this sort of activity by being stricter with the enforcement of the laws regarding conducting business in the country parks, but are reluctant because of possible back-lash. It may be worthwhile to know how they propose to proceed with this. But if the money changes hands outside of the CP area then there is nothing much that they can do.
AFCD should consider put more effort into expanding the existing sites, making more new sites available as well as their current work of refurbishing the existing facilities. It is well known the AFCD do patrols, rubbish clean-up, provide limited first aid service and advice for campers. There is always room for improvement, but they currently offer a good service already with particular emphasis sorting out issues during typhoons, heavy rain and fires. You will notice, despite the increase in usage, there has been a drop in injuries and an increase in the help provided to people in trouble when in the country side. increase in usage. Maybe a stricter policy of booking camp sites needs to be enforced, with people not allowed to camp without a firm booking. Currently, many people do not bother to pre-register online as requested on the AFCD web site.
One alarm bell for the future is that as the public bus access to the country park improves (and there has been some more talk of this recently), it is expected that country park visitation will increase rapidly. It would be good to have some projected figures, as well as an idea of the plans that AFCD has to cope with it.
Robin Bradbeer is Technical Director of Sai Kung Buzz. Paul Hodgson is Director of Oceanway Corporation. Both live and/or work in Hoi Ha.