Consultation on Nature Conservation Policy Review (Sep 2003)
1. We welcome the long awaited consultation document on the Review of Nature Conservation Policy. Planners do recognize the limitations of statutory land use zonings which can at best prevent developments which are incompatible with nature conservation objectives but can neither stop incompatible human activities which involve no development nor ensure active conservation management. It is essential to have a clear Nature Conservation Policy which has an integrated approach across different policy areas including town planning, land administration, and public resources allocation, etc. If the need to protect the areas of very high conservation value is of such importance that it is a "Public Purpose" to protect these areas, it would then be easier for other policy areas, such as land policy, to be changed to implement this purpose.
2. We do not consider it wise for the Government to rule out, from the outset, options such as land resumption, land exchange, off-site mitigation and transfer of development rights. Sites with ecological value are of different sizes and characteristics. They may be subject to varying degree of development pressure. To allow maximum flexibility, there should be a basket of as many tools as possible from which the Government can choose to deal with a particular case.
3. It is not clear from the consultation document how the proposed policy will affect the various conservation zonings under the Town Planning Ordinance. It is understood that the scoring system will be applied to the already known ecologically valuable sites to set priorities for obtaining government’s administrative and financial support in the context of very limited public resources available. What will be the future for the many “CA”, “CPA”, “SSSI” which fall within private ownership but not included in the priority list?
4. The government should take this opportunity to review and score all such conservation zonings and identify the different characteristics of the sites and pursue different actions. The following is a possible framework to work with:
4.1 For sites which are found to be not really ecologically significant particularly in terms of contribution to the overall ecological system in Hong Kong and not worthy of conservation for other reasons, they should be amended for more appropriate zonings.
4.2 For those which are ecologically valuable but require no active management, or for those which are valuable for other reasons e.g. natural landscape, the conservation zonings can be retained but clearly explained to the public. It is assumed that the normal agricultural activities under the lease entitlement can be practised in these sites.
4.3 For those which are ecologically valuable and require proper management, they should be put on the priority list irrespective of their size and popularity. This would encourage the landowners to be proactive in devising a more sustainable mode of operation.
5. The consultation document focuses only on nature conservation policy. It is not clear if the Government intends to review the policy of cultural heritage which is also an important aspect of conservation.
6. Proposed Scoring System for the Assessment of Ecological Value of Sites
6.1 We welcome an objective and transparent system for evaluating ecological value of sites. This is particularly important when public funding is involved. We would highly recommend that a similar scoring system be adopted for building conservation.
6.2 The currently proposed scoring system contains a rather narrow range of scores for each criterion (i.e. 0, 1, 2, 3). The highest score a site can get at the end of the assessment is 3. It is envisaged that most of the ecologically valuable sites may have assessed scores very similar to each other. It may not be very convincing to the public that a site with score 2.6 is of a higher priority than a site with 2.5. Wider range of scores may be adopted to better reflect the different attributes of the Sites, e.g. 5 scoring items for each criterion.
7. Management Agreements with Landowners
7.1 It is understood that NGOs in this context include not only green groups but other organizations such as YMCA, Red Cross, etc. Then it is important to ensure that there is the necessary expertise in the organization in ecological conservation and there is an effective monitoring and audit system for checking the effectiveness of the conservation management. It is presumed that the funding agency would have a committee to conduct annual audits of such agreements before allocation of new funding.
8. Private-public Partnership
8.1 This approach emphasizes on the private-sector initiatives in enhancing conservation. It is not clear what the actual contribution of the government is towards the “Partnership”. Will there be a special task force under the ETWB to facilitate the resolution of differences among government departments/bureaux?
8.2 It has been highlighted in the consultation document that proposals involving non in-situ land exchange for development may also be considered on an exceptional basis. This presumably implies that the government contributes towards conservation through land revenue foregone. What will be the land policy in proposals involving in-situ land exchange which is in fact a more common practice?
8.3 Long term conservation will be more cost-effective and better controlled if it is handled by a central Trust Fund rather than leaving it in the hands of many small and independent trusts. The developers involved may transfer its land title and contribute the necessary capital to the Central Trust Fund. When the Trust Fund is accumulated to a high enough level, it can even acquire private land of high ecological value in the private market.
Public Affairs Committee
Hong Kong Institute of Planners
30 September 2003