Pui O wetlands now facing caravan park threat
A caravan park is the latest threat to Pui O’s shrinking wetland.
A local landowner has applied to build a “temporary” caravan and camping ground and “ancillary hobby farm” on a number of allotments south of South Lantau Rd behind the Garden Plus store.
Much of the area covered by the application is currently open wetland and buffalo habitat.
It is a designated Coastal Protection Area (CPA), but Edward Yiu, Legco member for the architectural sector, said he believed a loophole allowed the operation of caravan parks in CPA zones.
If approved, it would be one more blow to Pui O’s besieged wetland, which is steadily contracting as a result of dumping and creeping development.
It would also be South Lantau’s third on-site caravan park. A dozen vans have been available for hire on CPA-zoned land at Tong Fuk since 2013. A second one opened at Cheung Sha last year, though it did not apply for TPB approval until February.
The latest application was lodged with the Town Planning Board on May 16. Just two weeks later the government released its Lantau blueprint that stressed “conservation of Pui O wetland” as one of its prime conservation objectives. But the report went no further than saying steps to conserve the ecologically sensitive site “are being explored.”
The area under application takes an unusual shape for a caravan park, with two sections in the middle of the site excised. Three smaller sections beyond the main boundary are included, possibly for the hobby farm.
The Pui O wetland, a marshy territory of around a dozen hectares between South Lantau Road and the coast, is not a natural wetland but is abandoned and previously heavily polluted agricultural land that has been regenerated by the presence of buffalo. The combination of buffalo waste and the churning of the soil by their hooves in the past 20 years has brought the wetland to life and created Lantau’s iconic tourist attraction.
Despite the name, the CPA does not provide any protection. It has no enforcement mechanism. As a result, the buffalo habitat has been incrementally shrinking every year. Local environmentalists and senior officials agree that the most likely solution is for the government to bring the wetlands under protection by doing a land swap. They see the land swap at Sha Lo Tung, aimed at protecting its diverse dragonfly species, as a significant precedent. It is the first of its kind for conservation purposes in Hong Kong.
Under Hong Kong’s kafkaesque planning laws, only land designated for development can be protected by the Environment Protection Department (EPD).
The EPD cannot prevent dumping on privately-owned wetland but in an equally surreal twist it has the power to approve dumping. A judicial review is now before the courts challenging the EPD’s director’s green-lighting of dumping on Pui O wetlands.
The case has been heard by Justice Au but the ruling is not expected to be handed down for several months.
Photo (top): Proposed caravan site, Pui O
NOTE: This story has been updated to include the announcement of the Sha Lo Tung land swap.