LCQ11: Development of Long Valley
Following is a question by the Hon Lee Wing-tat and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (April 21):
It has been reported that a former Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) said earlier that certain "powerful persons" were found to have pressed the Government to designate Long Valley as a "Comprehensive Development and Nature Conservation Enhancement Area" (CDNCEA), which included granting permission to landowners to build houses within the area. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has looked into who the "powerful persons" referred to by the former Director of HKO are; if it has, of the details and how the Government responded to the planning request of such persons in respect of Long Valley; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) given that the Planning Department (PlanD) proposed in the North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study to designate Long Valley, which covers 84 hectares (ha) of land, as CDNCEA, and that 26 ha within this area is proposed to be designated as "core zone", which is the feeding place and habitat for a high diversity of bird species, of the criteria based on which the authorities have designated the "core zone";
(c) given that the Environmental Protection Department rejected in 2000 the report of an Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the then Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) for its proposal to construct the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (the total length of which was 7.4 km, including 700 metres over Long Valley), on grounds that Long Valley was an area of extremely high ecological value, and KCRC subsequently changed its option to a bored tunnel; yet, PlanD is now considering granting permission to landowners to build houses in the area under the concept of CDNCEA, whether the Government has an unified standard to handle the future development of Long Valley; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) whether it has any clear definition for the concept of CDNCEA; if so, of the details?
In June 2008, the Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Planning Department (PlanD) jointly commissioned the "North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study" (the Study) to formulate a land use framework and provide guidance for the development of the North East New Territories (NENT) New Development Areas (NDAs) (including Kwu Tung North (where Long Valley is located), Fanling North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling NDAs). During the period between November 2008 and January 2010, the Stage One and Stage Two Public Engagement (PE) of the Study were held to solicit views from the public on their visions and aspirations for the NDAs. Comments received during the two stages of PE have been uploaded onto the study website www.nentnda.gov.hk . Amongst others, comments received regarding Long Valley were mainly on the need to retain and protect the area of Long Valley with important ecological resources, but some also pointed out that in conserving Long Valley, due consideration should be given to landowners' property right.
Our responses to the various parts of the questions are as follows:
(1) In response to the comments made by the former Director of HKO regarding "powerful persons", PlanD has approached him. According to our understanding, he generally referred to those who expressed the view that in conserving Long Valley, due consideration should be given to landowners' property right during the Stage One PE of the Study. PlanD has reiterated to the former Director of HKO that the objective of the PE was to solicit views from different sectors of the community, and the Government would nevertheless make a decision on the basis of community benefit.
In fact, after considering the comments received during the Stage One PE, the Study proposed in the Stage Two PE digest to conserve the area of high ecological value in Long Valley and, through the statutory planning application system, consider development that could integrate with the natural ecological environment through private sector participation. This approach could realise the intention of conserving and enhancing the ecological value and function of the area, make the best use of land resources, and achieve a balance between conservation and development needs.
(2) The Study Consultants carried out an ecological survey at Long Valley and Ho Sheung Heung from July 2008 to June 2009. The results of the survey reaffirm the high ecological function of Long Valley and reveal that the wetland continues to be of high ecological importance for wetland birds which prefer freshwater roosting places. It also reveals that the "Core Area" (about 26 ha) of Long Valley is of the greatest ecological importance for wetland birds. Much of the "Core Area" (55%) is actively managed for wetland agriculture, the main crops being water spinach and water cress, and this, together with semi-natural marsh areas and the managed wetlands formed in the former meanders (i.e. the wetland compensation area of the previous river training works for Beas River) which make up a further 14% of the area, provides suitable contiguous wetland habitat for both high diversity and high numbers of birds. The survey also indicates that small portions of the outer areas of Long Valley, which are mainly occupied by dry agricultural land, grassland, woodland and dispersed rural farm structures, are ecologically less sensitive compared with the "Core Area".
(3)&(4) At the time of planning the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line in 2000, there were extensive discussions in the community on the conservation of Long Valley. In 2004, Long Valley and Ho Sheung Heung was identified as one of the twelve "priority sites for enhanced conservation" under the New Nature Conservation Policy (NNCP). Public-Private Partnership (PPP) approach is one of the measures introduced to facilitate conservation of ecological important sites. Under the PPP approach, subject to stringent assessment by the Government, developments at an agreed scale would be allowed at the ecologically less sensitive portion of any of the priority sites identified for enhanced conservation, provided that the developer undertakes to conserve and manage the rest of the site that is ecologically more sensitive on a long-term basis. The objective of this policy is to collaborate with and consolidate resources of the private sector (including the business community, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the academia) to promote sustainable nature conservation.
The Study proposes in the Stage Two PE digest to designate Long Valley area as "CDNCEA" and to delineate the "core area" clearly on the Preliminary Outline Development Plan to reflect its ecological importance is to set out clearly the intention to protect and conserve the area. In terms of control, it is suggested to monitor the process through the statutory planning application system. Applicants could submit proposals for small-scale, low-density development that could integrate with the natural ecological environment with an undertaking to conserve and manage the "core area" and the rest of the site on a long-term basis. The proposed "CDNCEA" zone for Long Valley is considered in line with the objective and approach of conserving and protecting Long Valley under the NNCP.
In fact, "CDNCEA" is not a new concept. Back in late 1990s, zonings such as "Comprehensive Development and Wetland Protection Area", "Comprehensive Development and Wetland Enhancement Area" and "Comprehensive Development to include Wetland Restoration Area" were first introduced by PlanD for the fish pond areas with high ecological value on respective Outline Zoning Plans (OZPs) of the North West New Territories. Under the principle of "no-net-loss in wetland", consideration would be given through the planning application system to allow comprehensive low-density development to protect and conserve the existing ecological functions of fish ponds. The Town Planning Board has also formulated a set of planning guidelines to list out the planning considerations for applications. Zoning Long Valley as "CDNCEA" is to tie in with the existing NNCP to better protect and conserve the ecology of Long Valley in a sustainable way.
Nevertheless, the "CDNCEA" zone is only a proposal under the Study for public consultation. Taking into account all public comments received, we shall, in adopting the sustainable principle and on the basis of social and community benefit at large, formulate a development framework for the NDAs (including the Kwu Tung North NDA where Long Valley is located) at the next stage.
Ends/Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:02
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