Progress is sometimes the best means to preserve. Mr Wan Man-yee, who has been the architect behind the Nam Sang Wai development plan, shares with HT his views on the project and sustainable development.
The never-ending tug-of-war between conservationists and developers in Hong Kong finds its latest battlefield in the Nam Sang Wai wetlands as the public comment period of a proposal to build about 2,530 flats in the area ended this Friday (July 24). While opposition groups have reportedly submitted more than 1,500 letters of objection to the Town Planning Board (the Board) over the past three days, the developer, Nam Sang Wai Development, is also making a case for articulated enhancement.
The company is jointly owned by Henderson Development and the Fu family’s KHI Holdings Group, with the latter taking charge of the latest proposal.
HT speaks to Mr Wan Man-yee (溫文儀), a prominent general practice surveyor who has overseen the project ever since its first attempt to get pass the Board in the 90s, as he explains why the reviewed proposal is able to address all questions in order to achieve sustainable development.
The proposed development area consists of 179 hectares (ha) of land in Nam Sang Wai and Lut Chau. The latter, in particular, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that lies within the designated Ramsar site under an international convention for wetland preservation. The current third proposal is to zone 11.6 ha of land at the southern tip of Nam Sang Wai, adjacent to the Yuen Long Industrial Estate, for residential use, whereas 140.7 ha of net wetland would be preserved.
“Compared with our previous plan in 2013, the residential footprint has been reduced by 70% while the number of residential units will grow from 1,600 to about 2,530 without changing the residential gross floor area (GFA), 20% of which would become small units pending government approval to come under the ‘Home Ownership Scheme’. As Nam Sang Wai has long been a winter home for various bird species including Great Cormorants, Little Egret and Chinese Pond Herons, we have conducted thorough studies for years to map the flight paths of these birds to ensure that the settlements will not disturb their livelihoods.” Mr Wan says.
The veteran project manager is also confident that his master plan will comply with all ethical standards through the achievement of ‘no net loss of wetland’ principle upheld by the Board.
“The net wetland area will be maintained by rearranging fish ponds and reducing or removing water bunds. Meanwhile, more than 600 trees will be planted for compensation and landscaping purposes. We have also chosen suitable trees and bamboos to provide more nesting places and foods for the birds.”
“In the words of Mr Fu [Adrian Fu Hau-chak, CEO of the KHI Holdings], every single point we make in the proposal is defensible.”
Develop to preserve
Developers are almost always associated with greedy landowners trying to make the most out of their schemes. The Nam Sang Wai plan is under fire from local residents, green groups and political parties.
Yuen Long district councillor Wong Wai-yin (黃偉賢) from the Democratic Party, for example, has collected 1,581 letters of objection in the last three days of the public comment period. But Mr Wan suggests these oppositions tend to be misguided.
“One of the major misunderstandings is that the wetlands would be best preserved when kept idle. While Nam Sang Wai is indeed a rare nature reserve, it is not a pristine wetland. It is in fact a large artificial wetland resulting from agricultural development of brackish paddy fields, and gei-wei (shrimp) and fish ponds. More recently, the wetland has also fallen victim to illegal dumping, with trucks coming in and out of the supposedly peaceful paradise for bird-lovers. Ecological degradation is evident,” he explains.
“Accordingly, our plan is to undertake all capital expenditure for the establishment of two conservation sites in Nam Sang Wai and Lut Chau, which will be managed by an independent NGO with the support of the statutory Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF). The Lut Chau Natural Reserve will be similar to that of Mai Po, with a dedicated management and development committee to ensure ecological monitoring of human activities. In addition, we will donate a part of the project’s profit to the ECF to sustain the enhancement works.”
When asked if the developer had tried to clarify these points to district councillors and lawmakers before, Mr Wan can not help but laugh, “Be it Yea or Nay, they do not seem to have taken our arguments seriously. For them, there is simply no room for contemplation.”
Mr Wan, who was a member of the Elderly Commission and is now serving the Housing Authority, is also proposing the creation of a care centre in the residential area, with a public park next to it, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Alzheimer’s Disease Association (HKADA) and the Intellectually Disabled Education and Advocacy League.
Chairperson of the Intellectually Disabled Education and Advocacy League (IDEAL), Ms Nora Fung (馮梁綺萍), says, “The needs of moderately and mildly mentally handicapped persons have long been neglected. It is estimated that the waiting time for a hostel place for these persons can be as long as ten years.”
“A care centre in Nam Sang Wai offered by the developer is our only feasible option at the moment to help those families in need.”
The Board will call for a meeting to discuss the proposal on August 21. When asked if the developer would put forth yet another master plan with more concessions, be the current one rejected, Mr Wan says this would depend on the cost of premium to be paid for changing land use.
“That being said, the current plan is able to address environmental concerns while providing housing units to people from different classes. It is not a loss of the developer but rather the society if this proposal is to be rejected.” he concludes.