Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 07:58
Government needs opposition support for country park project
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Heung Yee Kuk Chairman and lawmaker Lau Wong-fat has moved a motion to exclude villagers’ land at Tai Long Sai Wan from a project to integrate them with an adjacent country park. The government now has to rely on the opposition’s backing to win the legislative battle.

Lau’s motion marked a new front in the battle between villagers and conservationists. Country parks on the city’s map are dotted with dozens of “enclaves”, most of them thriving or abandoned villages. 

Before a tycoon’s construction project off the scenic beach of Tai Long Sai Wan came to light in 2010, only 23 of 77 such enclaves had been covered by outlined zoning plans, bringing them under the ambit of the Town Planning Board. The government has since pledged to integrate all enclaves. Some of them, such as those in Tai Long Sai Wan, will be merged with adjacent parks and this is subject to regulations of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

While the need for conservation has rarely been questioned and villagers have always been reassured about their right to build three-storey houses, they feel the country park plan encourages confiscation of private property without compensation.

As the government tabled a bill to expand the park boundary in Tai Long Sai Wan, Kam Shan near Sha Tin and Yuen Tun near Tuen Mun, Lau is set to table an amendment to drop Tai Long Sai Wan from the bill — it will be his first motion in 22 years at LegCo.

Support from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) has helped push Lau’s motion through the bill subcommittee in last week’s meeting. Lau iterated at a meeting of the subcommittee on Tuesday that the proposed park expansion would hurt society at large and that “protection of private property rights is an important cornerstone of capitalism and an indispensable building block of a harmonious society.”

Other than indigenous villagers, Lau’s motion might also benefit Simon Lo Lin-shing, chairman of Mongolia Energy Corporation. He had reportedly acquired about 10,000 square meters of farmland in Sai Wan village for HK$16 million to build an “organic farm”.

Leung Siu-fai, deputy director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation, said villagers’ rights will be protected and landlords could get streamlined assistance from the AFCD on projects to offer visitor-friendly facilities or services.

Even though Lau Wong-fat has secured support of major pro-establishment parties for his motion, it is expected to be voted down at the chamber as the opposition camp is thought to be firmly backing the original government bill.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions has yet to decide on its stance and green groups continue to lobby in support of the government bill. The vote will take place at the assembly on Dec 4.

While the two opposing sides seem to favor divergent routes on controlling private developments inside country parks, they have questioned the criteria that apparently set some enclaves apart from others. The AFCD said that planning regulation had been framed for 54 enclaves after considering a number of criteria, including the scale of established inhabitation and area of privately owned plots that are crucial to a particular area’s potential to serve the purposes of a country park.

DAB lawmakers such as Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan could see little difference in the two approaches. Wu Chi-wai of the Democratic Party questioned why So Lo Pun, deserted for years and without road access, had not been merged with a country park.