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Chp 98, OU(RU) zone – Forty years champion for the environment

OU(RU) zone

In 2001, the Planning Department conducted a “Review of Rural Land Uses in Northern New Territories”. As a result of the Review, the Planning Department proposed in September 2002 to create a new zoning, to be known as Other Specified Uses annotated Rural Use, or “OU(RU)”, to allow development rights on agricultural land in exchange for upgraded of the rural environment. As a test case, the new zoning was to apply to three sites in a new draft Outline Zoning Plan for Tai Tong.

CA was concerned that despite its stated intention of achieving rural upgraded, the definition of the zoning was unclear and there were no guidelines on implementation, given the absence of a rural conservation policy. The net effect would be to recognise and legitimise the destruction of rural land and to reward its owners with a re-zoning to other more profitable uses, thus creating a spiral of rural degradation.

CA coordinated with other green groups in a campaign to oppose the OU(RU) zoning. With the benefit of insights from a concerned barrister Ruy Barretto SC, the green groups formulated a detailed paper on 26 October 2002 entitled “Objections to Proposal to convert Agricultural Land to Other Specified Uses annotated Rural Use, OU (RU) by the Planning Department under their Review of Rural Land Uses in Northern New Territories of July 2001, and Restoring the Balance in the Countryside, Proposals for Integrated Strategic Planning and Implementing Conservation Policy Mechanism”. Armed with the paper, the green groups organized a meeting with the Planning Department to express their concerns.

On 14 November 2002, the green groups formally submitted their paper together with a covering statement lodging their objection to the new zoning, signed under the names of the Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness, the Conservancy Association, Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong), Green Lantau Association, Green Power, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, Hong Kong Organic Farming Association, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, Produce Green Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Foundation, and World Wide Fund For Nature Hong Kong. In the joint statement the green groups questioned the lack of consultation in the Review and warned of a phased degradation of the countryside as a result of the OU(RU) zoning, leading to “the gradual loss of the true rural character, especially in the absence of any proper definition of the concepts of ‘rural landscape’ or ‘rural area’.” The green groups proposed a “Broad Framework for Strategic Planning, Sustainable Development and Conservation in the Northern New Territories”, and called on the government to defer the implementation of the Review’s recommendations as well as withdraw the draft Tai Tong OZP. Through the submission the green groups thus lent weight to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden which had earlier submitted an objection to the Draft OZP.

On 28 February 2003, the Town Planning Board rejected the green groups’ objection, but conceded by agreeing not to implement any further OU(RU) zoning besides Tai Tong until clear guidelines are established. The Board also directed that green groups’ views should be sought in developing the guidelines.

Accordingly, the Planning Department prepared a set of draft “Town Planning Guidelines for designation of ‘other Specified uses’ annotated ‘rural use’ (‘OU(RU)’) zone and application for development within ‘OU(RU)’ zone under Section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance” in consultation with green groups. Eight of the 12 green groups they consulted had no further comments on the Guidelines. Of the other four, CA put forward, on 7 October 2003, further recommendations including two more provisions, namely, a “clean record” test (i.e. no violation or infringement by the landowner over the last three years before application) and a “balance of contribution” test (i.e. assessing the quantum of public gain between this zoning and a conservation zone), to be added to the Guidelines.

On the eve of the TPB meeting on 19 March 2004, CA sent another letter to the Board, with two “scary pictures” of a degraded area in Lam Tsuen taken by Ng Cho Nam on 9 March during a visit of the Advisory Council on the Environment. In the letter CA reiterated the call for the two tests to be installed and calling for a moratorium on the new zoning until all the implications and adverse consequences have been considered.

Under the guidance of the then TPB Chairperson Mrs Carrie Lam, the Board agreed to “the broad principles set out in the draft TPB Guidelines”, but decided that there should be more consultation with stakeholders before the Guidelines and promulgated.

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment