Many people have the impression that Hong Kong is a concrete forest made up with high rise buildings. However, actually 75% of the land in this global city is undeveloped country side. Such landscape is an unintended result of the colonial history, when after the WWII, the British government tried to sustain the water supply of the city by building a number of reservoirs in countryside.
The above slides show one of the 10 greatest sceneries in Hong Kong: the Tai Long Wan beach. The natural beach is located in the Sai Kung East Country Park and accessible only by walk. However, on July 16 a local newspapers, South China Morning Post, exposed that a large private residence was under construction in the upper Sai Wan Village directly behind the beach. The person behind the construction project is local businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing, chairman of Mongolia Energy Corporation.
In reaction to the news, concerned citizens immediately formed a group in facebook calling for action:
Sai Wan, Tai Long Wan, is the latest in a long sad list of destruction of Hong Kong's core assets. Enough is enough – We are “Friends of Tai Long Sai Wan”, let's make this the last stand in the battle for better planning of our beautiful city before it is too late.
In less than a week, more than 65,420 facebook users have joined in the group. On July 18, the members of the group organized a field trip to the beach, and inmediahk.net's contributing reporter eg9515 joined the team, interviewed the head of Sai Wan Village and reported on the situation:
Another villager said that old village houses would be torn down for luxurious housing. Below is a video taken by eg9519 showing the 100 thousand square feet construction site and the bulldozers at the ground level:
To everyone surprise, on 20 of July, a netizen from the facebook group discovered (via eg9515's report) that the construction is actually a archaeological site of an ancient lagoon. The government geographical information website (file number AM78-0214) states that the value of the Sai Wan archaeological site has been established in the 80s and in 2006, archaeologists dug out a large number of ancient pottery from the Neolithic Age in the Sai Wan upper village. Here is the government report and below is the screen capture of the government map indicating the location of the ancient lagoon and archaeological site:
Environment expert, C.Y Jim from HKU Geography Department, also joined in the conversation upon receiving an email from member of the facebook group calling for advice. Below is his opinion on the case:
(1) Even though the land is privately owned, it is meant for agricultural use. Any departure from this customary use has to be approved by the government. The quasi-statutory instrument to enforce the land use control is enshrined in the block crown lease (now block government lease) imposed on all farmlands in the New Territories shortly after British leasing of NT from the Qing government. The Lands Department is the government agency in charge of enforcing land use control.
(2) Building water ponds (for recreational or amenity purpose rather than aquaculture) and tennis courts are unrelated to agricultural use, hence they should be considered as illegal land uses.
(3) Building houses for domestic use that is directly related to agricultural production would need approval from the Lands Department. I understand that existing sheds could be rebuilt but subject to tight restrictions on floor area and height. I believe that the site does not contain existing sheds or other covered structures, hence the new owner has no existing right to build a house on it.
(4) The adjacent plot behind Tai Long Wan (TLW, the main beach) is covered by a Rural Outline Zoning Plan (ROZP) dated 2006. The farmland has been designated mainly as Conservation Area (CA), and a strip of land adjacent to the beach has been zoned Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The two existing villages, namely Ham Tin and Tai Long, have been zoned Village (V). It is obvious that the planning intention is to protect nature from unnecessary disturbance or incursion. TLSW, being contiguous to TLW, has a similar landform and land use history, plus a wonderful stream. The conservation worth of TLSW, for all intents and purposes, is equivalent to TLW. The fact that TLSW is not covered by a Development Permission Area (DPA) Plan or ROZP is due to negligence or oversight.
(5) Concerning seeking a court injunction to stop the work, I believe that the government has the power to stop it without going through the statutory injunction procedure. Whether the government is willing to do so is quite another matter. If the government refuses to act, I am afraid the community will have to step in and seek an injunction. The saddest thing is that the destructive work is still proceeding whilst the government is contemplating the possible actions.
In order to press the government to stop the project, netizens called for complaint email and phone call campaigns. Serveral government departments finally stepped in and gave warning to the construction. Today Mr. Lo told the mainstream media that he would suspend the construction. Since the incident has exposed the local planning loophole that would destroy nature landscape, local legislators and environmental groups continue to urge the govenment to amend law and demand any construction plan near the country park areas should have proper environmental evaluation and be approved by the environmental department.