More than 30 hectares of country park enclaves on Hong Kong’s biggest island could soon be incorporated into the protected zones which surround them, officials have said.
But, despite the move, environmentalists warned that much of Lantau Island remained a hotbed of illegal development, saying the government needed to review its strategy for conserving ecologically sensitive sites.
Tei Tong Tsai, Man Cheung Po, Yi Tung Shan and Tsin Yue Wan were among 19 pockets of rural land on the fringes of or within country parks that have not yet been folded into the parks or covered by any land use restrictions.
A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department confirmed the moves to change their status. He said: “The Country Park Authority has already commenced assessment of the enclaves … according to the established principles and criteria.”
Once that is completed, the advisers on the statutory Country and Marine Parks Board will vet their suitability to be incorporated. The process of folding them into the parks could take three or four years.
The 15-hectare enclave of Tei Tong Tsai, which a hiking trail is named after, is the site of several Buddhist monasteries including Po Lam, Fa Hong and Wah Yim Kok. To the east is the 7-hectare enclave of Yi Tung Shan, named after the city’s seventh-highest hill, which is nearby.
The smaller pockets of Man Cheung Po and Tsin Yue Wan and another officially listed as “a site near Peaked Hill” – two, four and five hectares respectively – are in the sparsely populated parts of southwestern Lantau.
Man Cheung Po is home to the popular and heavily Instagrammed natural rock pools – also known as the “infinity pools” – along the Shui Lo Cho Stream. Tsin Yue Wan, a foot-shaped area along the Lantau Trail, is on the island’s western coast and faces the small sea stack of Peaked Hill.
Board members did not expect the process to become controversial, as happened with other enclaves in the past, such as Sai Kung’s Tai Long Sai Wan, which is scattered with private holdings.
The Post has learned that there are only about four hectares of private land in Tei Tong Tsai, and about one hectare each in the others.
Of the city’s 77 enclaves, 23 were already covered by some sort of interim land use rules before illegal development was uncovered in Tai Long Sai Wan in 2010.
Following public uproar over the incident, the government pledged to protect the remaining 54 enclaves by either incorporating them into parks or imposing statutory planning rules. As of this year, the Planning Department has established interim planning for 30 enclaves.
There is still rampant degradation of land in other parts of Lantau that lack development controls or country park protection like Pui O and Shui Hau
Eddie Tse, Save Lantau Alliance
Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of the Save Lantau Alliance, said the move was “better late than never” as it would offer the sites more protection from development threats.
Tei Tong Tsai for instance, the nearest enclave to Lantau’s urban area, has been under constant development pressure from nearby Shek Mun Kap.
“However, there is still rampant degradation of land in other parts of Lantau that lack development controls or country park protection like Pui O and Shui Hau,” he said.
Private land in both sites has been subject to constant soil and waste dumping in recent years because of certain legal loopholes that permit such activity. That is despite both areas being zoned for coastal protection.
“These places still have no planning rules and the government lacks enforcement power to prevent them from being damaged,” he said.
Dr Man Chi-sum, a member of the Country and Marine Parks Board, believed the five enclaves were chosen because they comprised mostly of uncontentious public land. He was more concerned about enclaves with large private landholdings that still lack any protection.
“Folding them into country parks is a protective measure, but it is far from an active conservation measure,” said Man, chief executive at Green Power. ”If you don’t actively conserve them, their ecological value will deteriorate.”
He urged the government to review its New Nature Conservation Policy – which lists priority sites for enhanced conservation – and ensure more ecologically sensitive parcels of land are covered by more active conservation plans that would involve locals and landowners in private-public management partnerships.
“They can’t just keep looking at the most cost-effective measures like invoking the town planning or country parks ordinances,” Man said. “They need to solve the problem at its root or there will always be a clash between villagers who want development and the need for conservation.”