Illegal land filling consuming Tong Fuk coastal greenbelt
Tong Fuk has become the latest Lantau village to suffer from unauthorised land clearance, a result of the vague planning laws and lack of enforcement that have plagued the rest of the island.
In the last three years, reclamation work has claimed hundreds of square metres of greenbelt between Tong Fuk village and the oceanfront, HK01 has reported.
The original work created a car park but has continued well into the adjacent green space, a cattle habitat and recreation area that also hosts the annual poon choi banquet.
The reclamation intrudes onto government land but the developers have ignored Lands Department warnings to halt work.
As with the rapidly-disappearing Pui O wetland, the entire zone between South Lantau Road and the beachfront is designated Coastal Protection Area (CPA) – but no planning or environmental laws exist to provide any actual protection.
Local conservation group Save Lantau Alliance wrote to the Sustainable Lantau Office and other departments about the unauthorised development, HK01 reported.
The Planning Department confirmed that the site is zoned CPA, which means any land filling or development work requires permission from the Town Planning Board (TPB). It said no development application for a car park or landfill had been received.
But planning agencies exercise their powers through the development approval process, which has never covered Tong Fuk or other villages on South Lantau Road, so they have no power to influence or stop any development.
As the Planning Dept said: “There is no regulatory authority there.”
The private-held portion of land belongs to a Mui Wo-registered company called Yuky Co. Ltd (耀崎有限公司), according to HK01.
A 1980s court case involving the late Heung Yee Kuk strongman Lau Wongfat found that the government cannot enforce planning laws on privately-held agricultural land.
Pui O wetlands ‘close to unviable’ as govt fails to act
Lantau activists have slammed government officials over their failure to stop the continued destruction of the Pui O wetlands.
Ham Tin resident Martin Lerigo, who has led a campaign to save the vanishing wetlands for five years, has warned that they are “close to unviable.”
In a letter to the Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO), he said “vandalism continues unabated with seemingly little interest” from government officials.
Since officials last visited four months ago “there has been considerable further damage to the Pui O wetlands including multiple areas of fencing off, including across streams and mangroves,” he wrote.
“The wetlands are now close to being unviable as a home to the unique water buffaloes of Hong Kong, much loved by local people and visitors alike.”
The SLO was formed in 2017 as part of the government’s push to develop Lantau. Despite its name, it is a unit of the CEDD, staffed mostly by civil engineers.
It is responsible for carrying out the government’s conservation policies as well as development, but has few staff with environmental expertise.
Another resident, Tom Yam of Mui Wo, says the SLO’s conservation efforts have been “an abject failure, with more pristine wetland damaged and no damaged land recovered.”
The agency has set “no specific results or deliverables,” and has “no management plan that holds individuals and organisation accountable,” he said.
“It makes a mockery of your claim to ‘conserve the south and develop the north’ in Lantau. We only see development in the north and degradation in the south.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed on multiple occasions to protect the Pui O wetlands, the city’s last major remaining buffalo habitat, but has yet to enact any new policies.
She has promised but not delivered a HK$1 billion Lantau Conservation Fund.
Lerigo asked if the office had taken any action to halt CLP’s connection of electricity supply to illegal structures. “This is a key driver of the environmental vandalism.”
He pointed out that a removal notice had been issued on an illegally-developed site seen by SLO officials on their most recent visit , yet “fencing is still there and has been expanded.”
Lerigo also asked:
- If the SLO had taken any action to increase the level of conservation expertise. “Only four out of the SLO’s 111 staff have any professional expertise in conservation matters.”
- If any progress had been made in setting up the Lantau Conservation Fund
- The status of its proposal to use resumption or a managed scheme as a solution
Tai O transport: cable car out, water taxi in
The government has abandoned a plan to extend the Ngong Ping cable car to Tai O, but is now considering a water taxi service between Tai O and Tung Chung.
In an interview with Sing Tao Daily, Robin Lee, director of the Sustainable Lantau Office, said improving the capacity of Lantau’s tranasport network was one of its priorities.
He says the government has dropped the proposal to extend Ngong Ping 360 down to Tai O, acknowledging the strength of public opposition as well as financial issues.
The plan of running the cable car through the Tai O valley – mostly Country Park, and including numerous religious retreats – stirred public opposition and was never fully embraced by the Ngong Ping 360 operating company.
However, Lee said the newly-established SLO, a bureau within the Civil Engineering and Development Department, hopes to improve Tai O’s external transport links with a water taxi service to Tung Chung.
The vessels would have a high carrying capacity and a flat bottom, seen in cities such as Paris and Bangkok, to enable them to pick up passengers from Tung Chung and enter Tai O River.
Currently the Fortune Ferry service operates between Tai O, Tung Chung and Tuen Mun. It runs to Tai O just four times a day on weekdays and a dozen times on Saturday and Sunday.
Lee said he was in discussions with the Transport Department to see if the frequency could be increased.
“In the past the concern has been that if the passenger volumes are too unpredictable, it will be difficult to find a company that will operate it on a long-term basis,” he told Sing Tao. He would shortly meet with the industry to discuss how to make the service viable.
Lee promised that “unlike the planning strategies of the past,” Lantau transport infrastructure would be developed in a way that avoided disturbing traditional lifestyles and the natural environment.
Photo: Water taxi, Bangkok