Nam Sang Wai Fire: Accident? Or Something More?

Real Hong Kong News

15 March, 2018

Nam Sang Wai Fire: Accident? Or Something More?

After over 17 hours, the fire in Nam Sang Wai was contained around 8am today. The fire was was first reported around 3pm on Monday (12th March). The quiet wetland in Yuen Long is known as “Hong Kong’s Heaven for Birds” and “Backyard of Hong Kong”. Unfortunately, the fire reignited around 2.30pm today (13th March). Some said that there were three points of origin (not yet confirmed by the fire department), the fire is estimated to have consumed around 200 square meter of reed field and trees.

Video: Apple Daily

Due to the weather condition and the high humidity, many suspect that the fire was set deliberately.

Commenting on the fire, Roy Kwong Chun-yu, Member of Yuen Long District Council, told Apple Daily that this fire is “strange”. Kwong recalled that in 2010, over a thousand citizens protested a developer’s plan to build a golf course in Nam Sang Wai. Since then, there were multiple fires in Nam Sang Wai (2010, 2011 and 2016), numerous trees were chopped down and the water level of the pound once dropped drastically. As each incident happened, online community, environmental activists and some politicians have questioned if there are some who have actively taken part in triggering these events to lower the ecological value to help speed up developing Nam Sang Wai.

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Picture from Cheng Chung-tai’s Facebook

Sitting in between Kam Tin River and Shan Pui River, Nam Sang Wai is also a popular destination for filming movies and TV dramas. Its natural beauty has not only caught the attention of nature lovers, but also the HKSAR government and property developers. The importance of Nam Sang Wai does not stop at ecological value: because of it’s geographic location and the environmental ordinances in Hong Kong, Nam Sang Wai wetland has long been an untouchable buffer zone right next to Hong Kong’s boarder. Developing Nam Sang Wai does not only destroy wildlife, it could have much more significant and longer term impacts to Hong Kong politically.

Cheng Chung-tai, a New Territories West legislator, said, “I have been saying this all along, ever since the Wang Chau housing development saga started, Nam Sang Wai is at risk. Once the permission to develop Wang Chau is granted, given that the peripheral plots of Nam Sang Wai are owned by property developers, they will be developed in no time. Soon enough, Nam Sang Wai wetland will be gone.”

In May 2015, for example, Sun Hung Kai Properties proposed to the Town Planning Board to build an outlet mall with commercial use and commercial fish ponds (original application in 2015 is available here, and the latest revised application in April 2017). Sun Hung Kei Properties owns multiple plots of land (an example of approved planning application) within the Nam Sang Wai wetland buffer zone. The developer had been submitting applications to change the land use of these sites for development time after time. The sites that are closer to the Nam Sang Wai wetland are more difficult to get permission from the Town Planning Board due to the higher ecological value. However, the major hurdles have now been removed, environmental concern groups and activists believe that Nam Sang Wai wetland will cease to exist in the near future in the name of development – biodiversity will also come to an end.

The HKSAR government began looking into the possibility of developing public housing in Wang Chau, Yuen Long. The initial plan was to build 17,000 public housing units in a 33 hectare of brownfield site. The government substantially scaled down its plan to only 4,000 public housing unit and the location of the development is moved to the greenbelt site south of the original site. The new plan does not only contradict to the environmental protection aim, but also forced the residents of three non-indigenous villages to leave them home.

Nam Sang Wai_12 & 14 plans

Original graphic by HK01

 

In October 2015, the three villages affected by the government’s plan were informed that they have to evacuate from their homes by 2018 without any consultation. After seeking help from a New Territories West legislator Leung Che-cheung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), who did not provide much assistance to the villagers, the villagers escalated the situation by reaching out to Land Justice League’s Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who was subsequently elected as a New Territories West legislator in 2016.

It was revealed that a carpark and container yard in the brownfield site where the original development plan targeted is owned by multiple indigenous families and “operated” by Tsang Shu-wo, chairman of the Ping Shan Rural Committee. According to East Week, the carpark brings Tsang and the owners of the site (mostly indigenous families) almost HK$100 million a year. If the government was to develop the site, the indigenous families and corporates will be compensated a few millions, while Tsang will get very limited compensation as he owns no more than 1,800 square feet of the site.

It is also worth noting that only part of the 17 hectares carpark/container yard was granted permission to change land use from greenbelt to brownfield/open storage field, while part of the site is, in fact, government land.

The relationship between “indigenous villagers”, legislators and the government raised public concern. Tsang is a long term supporter of Leung Che-cheung, and Leung’s party, DAB, is the largest pro-China and pro-HKSAR government political party in Hong Kong. It was revealed that in 2013, the government began “soft lobbying” the powerful individuals about the original development plan.

The government claimed that “soft lobbying” is a standard practice, and there is no record of any “soft lobbying” being kept. Activists questioned that the government’s “standard practice” results in development plan that benefits only the powerful and indigenous villagers at the cost of other non-indigenous villagers and the environment – in the Wang Chau development plan, Tsang will benefit from the revised plan while the greenbelt and the residents of the three villagers would pay the price of development.

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