Afforestation was an urgent task after the war. The Colony was almost entirely deforested. As vegetation became denser the need to arrest fires and litter grew. So also did the voices for nature conservation, public education and country parks.
In 1974, colonial governor Murray MacLehose answered the call to establish a ‘national parks’ scheme, with one newspaper reporting the installation of ‘150 tables for picnickers, 135 benches, 110 barbecue pits and 600 litter bins.’ The Country Parks Ordinance was enacted in 1976 and the Country Parks Regulations in 1977. MacLehose was in a hurry: ‘In four years’ time, there will be about 20 parks covering all the open countryside.’
To expedite the designation, legislation excluded some 77 enclaves of private land inside the parks. Most elderly continued subsistence farming in these small and remote villages for some years while their offspring left for factories in Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan or went overseas.
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Access was mostly on foot or by sampan. The few accessible villages close to Sai Kung developed with small houses under the 1972 policy. They became a popular choice for expats including retirees and pilots (before Kai Tak closed). Fast forward, in 1992 the Sha Lo Tung judicial review stopped a golf course development in this enclave famous for butterfly colonies. A six-year long campaign started in 2000 to hold off the creation of a zone for 370 houses at the Tai Long Wan beach enclave.
Sporadic unauthorised development at enclaves culminated in condemnation when the government failed to act on extensive land clearing behind the beach of Tai Long Sai Wan in the summer of 2010. The public demanded protection of the country parks and strengthening of development control. Recognising the enclaves as part of the country parks would put development under the strict Country Park Regulations Ordinance. Land owners, egged on by the Heung Yee Kuk, objected aggressively.
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In 2014, the Government excluded their own advisors, the Country and Marine Parks Board, from its decision not to incorporate the village enclaves Hoi Ha, Pak Lap, So Lo Pun, To Kwa Peng, Pak Tam Au and Tin Fu Tsai into Country Parks. Government did not go further than zoning the enclaves under the Town Planning Ordinance. This offers minimal protection. It does not provide for management or adequate enforcement powers.
On 12 October this year, the Court of Final Appeal ruled otherwise – the Save Our Country Parks Alliance won. The Government is ordered to go back to the Country and Marine Parks Board. Question is now – will they stop the rot and take control over the enclaves? The battle to protect our country parks has yet to be won.