The following are the Society's comments on the Draft So Lo Pun OZP:
The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS) would like to raise our concerns on the Draft So Lo Pun Outline Zoning Plan (OZP). In the 2010 Policy Address, Donald Tsang promised to include Country Park enclaves into Country Parks (CPs) or determine their proper uses through statutory planning in order to meet conservation and social development needs . However, as the Draft So Lo Pun OZP does not provide sufficient protection to the established high ecological value of So Lo Pun we propose So Lo Pun to be designated as part of the Plover Clove Country Park. Please note our concerns as follows:
1. Propose Village Zone is too Large and Impractical and Places Private Development Interest ahead of Public Interest
The Draft OZP provides a Village (V) zone for up to 134 small house developments, however the conditions of So Lo Pun suggests that it is not suitable for village development for various reasons. Currently, So Lo Pun has been abandoned by villagers and there are no outstanding small house applications . There is a lack vehicular road access, water supply and sewage treatment facilities and there are no future plans to build them just as stated in the Town Planning Board Paper (the Paper), and findings from the “Study on the Enhancement of Sha Tau Kok Rural Township and Surrounding Areas” . Access to So Lo Pun solely relies on boat-access or by foot from either Wu Kau Tang or Kuk Po both of which are highly inconvenient. Based on these reasons, the provision of land for 134 small house developments is unreasonable. The Planning Department should provide justifications for proposing such large-scale development areas in a location that is a) worthy of the highest degree of ecological protection b) entirely unsuitable for expanded village style development owing to the remote location and lack of appropriate infrastructure c) creates a false expectation in favour of residential development d) fails to adopt the ecosystem approach. It is the duty of the Planning Department to take into consideration the local conditions and development constraints in the process of land use planning , the Planning Department has failed to do so with the provision of such large V zone.
2. Composition of Bird Population at So Lo Pun
The last record of Crested Kingfisher was at obtained from So Lo Pun back in 2009. This scarce and very localized resident and winter visitor is dependent on natural stream habitats surrounded by wooded areas , the undisturbed Ecologically Important Stream (EIS) surrounded by wooded area at So Lo Pun provide suitable habitat for this scarce species. The mangroves and reedbed near the shore of Kat O Hoi provides foraging opportunities for waterbirds, especially ardeids.
3. Seahorse at Kat O Hoi
It is the duty of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to advise on potential adverse ecological impacts resulting from the land use of the Draft OZP and to conserve our natural environmental and safeguard ecological integrity . Thus, the AFCD should acknowledge the seahorse Hippocampus kuda at Kat O Hoi (Figure 1). This species is listed as Vulnerable under the IUCN, threatened by not only exploitation for Chinese medicine but also by habitat degradation and pollution especially in Hong Kong . The sensitive species would be impacted by water pollution from the village houses as discussed in the sections below.
4. Indirect Impacts to Ecologically Important Stream from Village Zone
Seasonal streams form the tributaries of the EIS. One of which is surrounded by the proposed V zone where agricultural uses are always allowed (Figures 1 and 2). The development of small houses and the associated change of land use will increase the pollution load runoff into the tributaries and eventually into the EIS. The recorded population of fish species Oryzias curvinotus as well as other sensitive habitats and species downstream (seagrass bed, marsh and seahorse) would be impacted by water pollution. There are few unpolluted natural low-land streams remaining in Hong Kong, all measures to protect the EIS and its tributaries should be taken, this includes the provision of a sufficient buffer area (~20m) to protect any existing riparian vegetation. It is the Planning Department’s duty to retain these significant ecological attributes and to control adjoining uses to minimize adverse impacts on conservation zones .
5. Sewage Pollution from Septic Tanks
The underlying geology will not support the use of on-site septic tanks and soakaway systems to disperse untreated wastewater into the surrounding soil in So Lo Pun. Pollution will not be filtered as proposed, and the discharge of untreated wastewater into the environment will lead to irreparable damage being caused to the EIS, Freshwater Marsh and marine environment at So Lo Pun. Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has long adopted an interpretation on soakaway pits that is fundamentally flawed and may be subject to legal challenge. This interpretation facilitates the building of housing that depends on soakaway pits for approval in ecologically sensitive areas and thereby EPD fails in its duty to protect the environment that is implicit in its name.
6. Reasons Why So Lo Pun is not Designated as Part of the Country Park
The undisturbed nature along with the topographic characteristics of So Lo Pun has led to it become high in both landscape and ecological value. As stated in the Paper, “according to the DAFC, the suitability of the So Lo Pun enclave for country park designation would be assessed in due course by drawing reference to criteria such as conservation value, landscape and aesthetic value, recreation potential, and existing scale of human settlement. Views of the Country and Marine Parks Board will also be sought in the process.” And although it is understood that the designation of the area as Country Park is under the jurisdiction of the Country and Marine Parks Authority under the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap. 208) and not by the Town Planning Board, there is still no valid argument as to why an area with such high value cannot be designated as part of the Plover Clove Country Park. A number of ecological sensitive receivers including the EIS, seagrass bed, mangroves, reedbeds, marsh3 and mammals species of conservation interest (Crab-eating Mongoose Herpestes urva and Yellow-bellied Weasel Mustela kathiah) have been identified . The seagrass is also considered to be of high ecological value due to its rarity and restrictedness in Hong Kong11. Although it is acknowledged that these areas have been proposed to be zoned as Conservation Area (CA), CA zoning provide limited protection to development and habitat destruction. One of the evidence being that under the list of permitted land under the schedule of uses allows for land use that could require vegetation clearance, like agricultural use. The appropriateness of CP designation should be prioritized first and considered by the AFCD and CMPB on the basis of the precautionary principle. We urge the AFCD and the CMPB provide justifications as to why So Lo Pun is not proposed as be designated as part of the Country Park.
The HKBWS respectfully requests the Town Planning Board to consider our concerns on the draft So Lo Pun OZP. Based on the reasons above, we hope the Town Planning Board will consider to incorporate So Lo Pun as part of the Plover Clove Country Park.