Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

EPD on a path to desecrate ecologically sensitive area

EPD on a path to desecrate ecologically sensitive area
Howard Winn
Aug 10, 2012

We have been following the efforts of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to desecrate one of the most pristine ecological sites in Hong Kong.

The project in question is the effort by the Sha Lo Tung Development Corporation (SLTDC) to build a columbarium at Sha Lo Tung, near the Pat Sin Leung country park, just North of Taipo.

The SLTDC bought the land development rights from the villagers in 1979 and has been trying to develop the area ever since.

In 2004, the government came up with something called the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Conservation Scheme. This, according to the EPD, ensures the conservation of “high-priority sites such as Sha Lo Tung by packaging long-term conservation action with sustainable, compatible commercial activities within the conservation area and suitable development on adjoining land”.

This scheme has the unfortunate distinction of being the first such PPP project, so the EPD is keen to push it through to “prove” that its policy works.

However, the PPP criteria appear to have been breached on at least three counts.

First, the development is supposed to take place within the boundary of the designated conservation area. But the development is actually taking place outside the site boundary, though within the Sha Lo Tung catchment area. Secondly, the development is supposed to be built on private land; but in this case the development will be on government land.

The third issue is that development is to be built on the least ecologically sensitive part of the site. But the location of the columbarium is on its most ecologically sensitive areas.

On this point the green groups also point out that the environmental impact assessment is misleading in its description of the area in that it does not mention that in the wet season the site of the columbarium is a wetland with a 4.5 metre waterfall.

Since these main three criteria have been breached and the site should not have been selected for the PPP process, green groups argue that the project is being pushed by the EPD to “prove” that the policy works.

The groups have identified an alternative site for the columbarium on the edge of the Shuen Wan landfill and suggested a land swap arrangement, which the SLTDC has indicated it does not oppose. At present the Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE), has asked the development company for more information ahead of making a decision.

After the ACE recommendation, the project goes to Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee, who is both the permanent secretary of the Environment Bureau, and the director of the Environmental Protection Department. Wearing her Environment Bureau hat, her job is to advance government policy. But as director of the EPD, she also oversees the environmental impact assessment process to ensure it is carried out properly.

As such she is conflicted.

The developer stands to make around HK$6 billion from the project, which it has to share with the government. But it seems odd that the EPD is using a conservation policy to raise revenue while trashing an ecologically sensitive area. The development calls for the building of a new road, and about a quarter of a million visitors are expected every Ching Ming and Chun Yeung festival. It’s another example of the madness emanating from the Environment Bureau.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *