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Chp 136, Lung Mei Beach – Forty years champion for the environment

Lung Mei Beach

Throughout 2006 and 2007 the Tai Po District Council was pushing the Administration to undertake a plan to turn a natural beach in Lung Mei near the Plover Cover Reservoir into a bathing beach. CA was opposed to the project.

The government did complete an environmental impact assessment for the project which found “no long term unacceptable impacts on the environment”. The beach and nearby riverbed habitats would be permanently lost but they were considered of “low ecological value”. But CA disagreed with the EIA report. CA’s Peter Li photographed a variety of marine species on Lung Mei overnight, such as sea stars, urchins and crabs and the rare northern dragonet which were of moderate to high ecological value. In any case, CA could not accept that whole habitats could be wiped out just for a dubious and unsustainable project, even if the species were not endangered.

The project is unsustainable because Lung Mei is not suitable as a bathing beach. In 2007 the water quality in Lung Mei Beach was unsuitable for swimming during the bathing season (March to September) – 81% of the time the water quality was poor or very poor. Although the project anticipated 60% of the private sewers to be re-connected to the public sewer, still the EIA report itself acknowledged that the water quality would be poor or very poor 38% of the time. This translated into 51days with poor beach water quality endangering the health of about 800 swimmers. With a construction cost of $130 million and the operation and maintenance cost still unknown, the project was clearly unsustainable from both the economic and environmental point of view.

Furthermore, Lung Mei Beach is adjacent to Ting Kok wetland, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The impact of human disturbance to Ting Kok would be considerable.

In January 2008 the Advisory Council on the Environment endorsed the Lung Mei project EIA report with the condition that further information should be provided to confirm the ecological status of Lung Mei Beach.

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August 26, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 135, Bonsai Garden at Stanley – Forty years champion for the environment

Bonsai Garden at Stanley

The Conservancy Association received a complaint in April 2004 from the Kwan Yin Temple in Stanley about a Housing Department project to construct a “Bonsai Arboretum”, a kind of centre for horticultural art, in the Ma Hang Headland. The project would include a large car park right in front of the temple’s entrance and the construction of the Arboretum would necessitate large scale tree felling – 542 out of 1,047 trees as CA later found out.

CA spent a few months trying to negotiate with Housing Department and the developer, but to no avail. The project had the support of the District Council and the developer was reportedly a Chinese family keen on the Bonsai art and contributing to the development as a social contribution rather than a for-profit operation. CA was willing to facilitate a acceptable solution but did not find much help from the government project proponent, the Housing Department. A local newspaper broke the story on 4 October.

Representatives of CA and Director of Housing Leung Chin-man met on 6 October at which Mr Leung promised that he would adopt an “open attitude” towards the project and wanted a tripartite working group comprising the Housing Authority, CA and the developer to be formed. Accordingly, a tripartite meeting was held on 19 October, at which Housing Department explained that all clearance had been obtained for tree felling. However, Hung Wing Tat of CA put forward a few principles in the design of the Arboretum, namely, that its prime objective should be to preserve the natural habitat, including the woods; the arboretum should be designed to fit in with the current landscape and vegetation of the area rather than to remove everything on site; the new structures should be well justified; and mature trees should not be damaged. CA also suggested full public engagement in developing the park.

The project proponent later withdrew from the plan, and Housing Authority decided to transform the headland into a community park with nature conservation as its main theme. With the participation of CA, two community workshops were organised in late 2006 and early 2007. The park would be developed with a greater emphasis on retaining the natural landscape. It is expected to be completed in 2010.

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 134, Hung Hom Peninsula – Forty years champion for the environment

Hung Hom Peninsula

Only in Hong Kong would this happen: to demolish 2,500 brand new flats right after they are built. That was the Hunghom Peninsula on the South East Kowloon waterfront.

And it was because of another only-in-Hong Kong: the government zoned the prime waterfront site for a public housing scheme (technically, private housing with public subsidy under the Home-Ownership Scheme), had it built by a private developer, then did a policy U-turn to stop the scheme right after the flats were built (November 2002), and sold the whole development at what some regarded as dirt-cheap price to the original partner (February 2004) who then announced that they would bulldoze the site and rebuild it for luxury housing (March 2004).

Perhaps the government rather than the developer was the ultimate culprit but the message of bare greed – to build and immediately destroy just for profit – was too much to take for green groups. CA and Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green Power and Worldwide Fund for Nature jointly sent a joint petition on 25 March 2004 to New World Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties, the joint developers for the project, protesting against the intended demolition.

For the green groups, the demolition would generate waste of at least 200,000 tonnes requiring more than $20 million to manage, a blatant breach of producer-responsibility and polluter-pay principles. But they did not apportioned blame to the developers yet but to the government: “The whole incident makes a mockery of the HKSAR Government’s long-term vision of Hong Kong’s sustainable development. The confusion and inconsistencies of the HKSAR Government’s housing policy, without any due consideration given to possible environmental consequence, are the direct cause of this environmentally unjustifiable re-development which may lead to demolition of seven brand-new residential buildings.” Despite that, the green groups called on the developers to exercise their corporate social responsibility and to re-think their re-development plan. They did give a warning of calling for a boycott of the developers’ flats should the demolition go ahead.

Adding to the statement, CA coordinated a signature campaign in April 2004 against what CA described as an act that would make Hong Kong a “city of greed and wastefulness”. It also took advantage of the campaign to urge the Legislative Council to pass the landfill charging legislation to implement the polluter-pay principle.

But the call fell on deaf ears and the green groups were outraged when on 29 November developer the developers announced that they had decided to proceed with demolition. The joint campaign intensified and under the leadership of Friends of the Earth a joint press conference involving some 30 community groups was held on 8 December condemning the decision, with CA supporting it by staging a petition outside LegCo to urge Legislators to oppose the redevelopment. Two days later, on 10 December 2004 the developers reversed their decision and announced that they would not demolish the buildings, to the relief of the green groups. The decision was welcomed by CA and FoE led a “Family Environmental Walk for a Bright Future of Hunghom Peninsula” on 12 December. The developers then proceeded to refurbish the flats.

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 133, Hei Ling Chau Superprison – Forty years champion for the environment

Hei Ling Chau Superprison

Concern over prison overcrowding gave rise to the idea of a “Superprison” to house 15,000 prisoners in the same complex. A firm proposal was developed in June 2001 for a $15 billion structure on 120 hectares of land, either in Hei Ling Chau near Lantau Island, or in Kong Nga Po near the border. To address concerns expressed by the Legislative, the proposal was scaled down in 2002 to a facilities for 7,220 inmates on 76 hectares. With that concession the government plan almost went through – only to be finally derailed by civil society opposition.

After government had made up its mind about Hei Ling Chau as the preferred location, commissioned, a consultant was commissioned to conduct a feasibility study in 2003. CA decided to boycott the consultation in 2004, condemning it as a “sham consultation” as no alternative had been offered.

In view of Hei Ling Chau’s ecological significance and the lack of a land use plan, CA proceeded in June 2004 to request the Town Planning Board to prepare a statutory plan for Hei Ling Chau and the nearby Sunshine Island. CA argued that Hei Ling Chau had its unique history as a “Healing Island”, a former leprosarium. Ecologically, it is home to various flora and fauna including rare species such as the Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizard. It is also part of the outlying islands of South Lantau which should be reserved for conservation and recreation. Hence CA suggested that a Development Permission Area Plan be drawn up mainly to designate the land as Greenbelt, with some for Government, Institution or Community uses. CA also wrote to the Advisory Council on the Environment in July urging the Council to defer discussion on the Superprison until a proper planning context had been established through a land use zoning plan.

While CA ploughed through the statutory process, residents of Lantau and Lamma joined together in a group called “Living Island Movement” to oppose the Superprison. Then a series of events happened in quick succession. On 8 October 2004, the Town Planning Board rejected CA’s request to prepare a statutory plan. Meantime the Living Islands Movement was planning a high-profile “floating rally” for 17 October 2004 to oppose the Superprison, but even before the rally took place, on 12 October the Legislative Council was told that the Security Bureau (SB) had decided to shelve the project and would no longer need to ask LegCo for funding.

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 132, Sham Chung – Forty years champion for the environment

Sham Chung

Sham Chung is a valley surrounded by hills on three sides. It is blessed with a remarkable diversity of habitats, including freshwater marsh, abandoned wet agricultural land, mangrove stand, woodland, Fung Shui woods and natural stream course, which drains into the coastal mudflat at Sham Chung Wan. The area was noted for being rich in fish species, especially a large population of the rare Black Paradise Fish, and is one of the twelve priority sites under the government’s New Conservation Policy in November 2004.

However, over the years the marsh land has been progressively destroyed. From 1999, close to half of the mangrove forest was bulldozed and filled to create a lawn. In May 2004, news broke that a private developer had submitted a proposal directly to the Office of the Chief Executive in November 2003 proposing to develop the area into a golf resort. CA wrote to the Chief Executive expressing concern over any breach of due procedure.

The underlying issue was that Sham Chung was not part of the Country Park, nor was it governed by any land use plan, hence CA made a submission to the Town Planning Board in July 2004 requesting that a Development Permission Plan be drawn up for Sham Chung. The DPA zoning would comprise mostly Coastal Protection Area, Conservation Area, Agriculture and Village, with the primary aim to provide buffer and protection for the existing habitats and the surrounding Country Park and maintain the rural character, while allowing passive recreational uses.

CA’s request was agreed by the Town Planning Board which prepared and published a draft plan in February 2006. CA submitted a representation in April 2006 welcoming the draft DPA plan and proposing to tighten some of the zoning by designating the stream “Site of Special Scientific Interest”, rezoning “Agriculture” to “Green Belt”, expanding the “Coastal Protection Area” as well as reducing the area of “Village.” CA’s representation also noted, “At present the whole area has been razed and become what in all appearances is to be a golf course. However, such a ‘golf course’ would be illegal as it has not gone through the necessary statutory requirements such as EIA study and environmental license; legally, therefore, it can only be regarded as ‘grassland’. Such a strategy of ‘destroy first, develop later’, must not be condoned, and the DPA as a planning mechanism must not become a tool to legitimize such questionable and unethical destruction of our ecologically valuable sites.”

Besides its own submission, CA also objected to another representation by the developer to create a new Other Specified Uses (Recreation & Tourism-related Uses) zoning. The representations were considered by the Town Planning Board in July 2006. The more stringent controls proposed by CA were not accepted, but at least government’s original zonings were upheld and Sham Chung was subject to proper planning control.

But the DPA is temporary by nature. CA continued to engage with Planning Department on the preparation of the Outline Zoning Plan for Sham Chung, advocating a conservation-first approach although not ruling out some small-scale development.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, further meetings between CA and the government and occasionally with the developer gave further credence to press reports of plans to develop a resort in the area. In the summer of 2008, developer Sun Hung Kai submitted a rezoning request under Section 12A of the Town Planning Ordinance which would enable an eco-tourism project with 40% site coverage comprising 60 structures to be developed. CA submitted an objection to the rezoning, complaining that the nature and scale of the development would ruin the rural character of the site and that the application would set a disastrous precedent of condoning the act of “destroy first, develop later.”

Later the same developer submitted another Section 16 application for ecological restoration of the Coastal Protection Area. CA submitted a representation pointing out that although the application was moving in the right direction of restoration and recovery, the scale and scope was too limited and should have been extended to the core area of the valley which had been destroyed. CA also formulated a “roadmap” for Sham Chung’s future conservation and development, including the following steps:

  1. A conservation plan to re-instate and restore the stream and freshwater marsh of Sham Chung
  2. A monitoring programme, after concrete results were achieved from the conservation plan
  3. After the ecology of the freshwater ecosystems have been restored successfully, longer term management options under the New Nature Conservation Policy of the HK SAR Government may be considered.

August 21, 2015 Posted by | Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment