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					‘Nature Outlook – Consultation Document on the Review of

              Nature Conservation Policy’




             Comments and Recommendations

            by Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong)



                     17 October 2003
                                     Executive Summary

(a) Friends of the Earth (HK) (FoEHK) welcomes the release of consultation document of
    Nature Conservation Policy. Hong Kong has been paying a high price for the lack of
    comprehensive conservation policy in the past and it is time for the society to reach
    consensus and demonstrate commitment to protect Hong Kong’s natural heritage.


(b) This document focuses mainly on the conservation of ecologically important sites under
    private ownership. A comprehensive policy review should include the conservation of
    government land, Country Parks, and Marine Parks. Besides conserving existing valuable
    sites, restoration of degraded habitats should also be addressed in the document. The
    government should address these outstanding issues in formulating the new Policy.


(c) Conservation policy is inextricably linked to land use policy in Hong Kong. However, the
    document does not mention how the proposals will affect the rural landuse in the New
    Territories. The recent conversion of Agriculture landuse to Other Specified Use (Rural
   Use) in Tai Tong represents a lack of coordination in achieving conservation within the
   government.


Proposed Scoring system


(d) FoEHK agrees that a robust scoring system is crucial to the identification of priority sites
    for protection. However, the success of the system depends not only on its robustness, but
    also on who, where, when and how to use the scoring system.


(e) The government should consult all stakeholders during the assessment process, including
    gathering information and advice from ecological experts on the importance of individual
    sites, and the location of sites to be assessed. The government should spell out clearly that
    destruction of habitats will not affect the final assessment results.


(f) The status of the sites within the priority list should be clarified. A new guideline or
    amendments to the existing Town Planning Ordinance and Environmental Impact
    Assessment Ordinance can alert future developers of these ‘no-go’ areas at the early
   planning stage of projects.


Management Agreements between NGOs and Landowners


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(g) FoEHK believes that this approach will work only if there are effective monitoring
    mechanisms and sufficient incentives for the NGOs and landowners. In approving
    management agreements, the government should consider the track record of
    non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in organizing environmental programmes, so
    that the agreements will not be abused to justify unsustainable business activities which
    may damage the ecological values of the sites.


(h) FoEHK supports in principle the ‘management agreement’ approach and urges the
    government to facilitate a number of pilot projects with the participation of all
   stakeholders. The injection of funds into the existing Environment and Conservation Fund
   can be an interim arrangement in supporting pilot projects. A Nature Conservation Fund
   should be established in the long run to protect our natural heritage.


Private-public Partnership (PPP)


(i) This approach originates from the ‘Fung Lok Wai’ case to protect fishponds in the Deep
    Bay Area. FoEHK has reservations about large-scale application of this approach to other
    habitats. Many ecologically important sites in Hong Kong are small according to
   international standards and small scale development in one portion of the site can cause
   disturbance to local fauna and flora and degradation of the habitat as a whole.


(j) To date there have been no successful PPP cases as the Fung Lok Wai ‘trust’ model is yet
    to be implemented. The government must establish effective monitoring mechanisms to
    ensure that developers will undertake management and enhancement of the sites in the
    long term.


(k) While we agree that land resumption is not a sustainable option for conservation, the
    government should provide sufficient incentives to facilitate ‘management agreements’ in
    conserving ecologically important sites.


Recommendations:


(l) FoEHK recommends the establishment of a statutory Conservation Authority to
    coordinate and monitor all conservation efforts in Hong Kong, including the long-term
    management of sites under management agreements and PPPs as well as ecological
   mitigation measures undertaken by EIA project proponents.


(m) A Nature Conservation Fund should be established in the long run to pool resources from
    the government, business sector and the general public. The Fund will provide financial
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incentives on training, research and long-term management of important sites. The
business sector should be encouraged to take the lead in regular donations to the Fund.
The Fund can undertake a wider range of functions after the accumulation of a sizeable
reserve, such as land acquisition, promotion of eco-tourism, and investment in nature
conservation projects.




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General Comments

1.   Friends of the Earth (HK) (FoEHK) welcomes the long-awaited consultation document
     of Nature Conservation Policy. Debates on ‘Development Vs Conservation’ have been
     ongoing in the past 20 years and it is time for the community to reach consensus and
     demonstrate commitment to protect Hong Kong’s natural heritage.


2.   Hong Kong has been suffering from the lack of holistic conservation policy in the past.
     There were notable court cases such as Sha Lo Tung, Nam Sang Wai and Long Valley.
     There were also numerous small scale, scattered developments which eroded our
     countryside bit-by-bit. Unfortunately protracted debates and expensive litigation fees
     have not been able to achieve long-term protection and management of ecologically
     important sites.


3.   FoEHK published two position papers on Conservation Policy in November 1992
     (entitled “Conservation in Hong Kong – Preserving our Future”) and in April 1993
     (entitled “A New Policy for Conservation and the Countryside in Hong Kong”), during
     which FoEHK sought a judicial review against the development of Sha Lo Tung. The
     Sha Lo Tung case was a milestone victory of Hong Kong’s environmental movement.
     Yet, the lack of a holistic conservation policy had forced green groups to stand out again
     in 2000 to conserve Long Valley.


4.   This consultation document focuses mainly on the protection of ecologically important
     sites under private ownership. This is perhaps the most controversial issue of
     conservation policy in Hong Kong and certainly deserves much attention. However, a
     proper conservation policy should cover a much wider scope of work on species
     protection, habitat preservation and restoration. These important aspects of conservation
     policy are very briefly discussed and no critical review is provided in the document.


5.   A complete review of the existing policy should also include a critical evaluation of
     existing conservation measures for the whole of Hong Kong, including conservation in
     government land, existing Country Parks and Marine Parks. The review should not focus
     only on the conservation of existing ecologically important sites, restoration of degraded
     or loss habitats are equally important and should also be addressed.


6.   Conservation policy is inextricably linked with landuse policy in Hong Kong. This
     consultation document does not mention how rural land should be protected in the long
     run. While this document reiterates that agricultural land has no development rights, the
                                              4
     recent conversion of Agriculture landuse to Other Specified Uses (Rural Use) in Tai Tong
     sends an alarming signal to the public that ‘Upzoning’ can be considered for degraded
     land in New Territories. This highlights the lack of coordination between government
     departments and bureaux in achieving conservation in the countryside.


Specific comments on government proposals:

Scoring Scheme for Assessing Ecological Value of Sites


7.   The objectives of the scoring system are to provide a more objective and systematic
     mechanism for assessing the relative ecological importance of sites, as well as to identify
     priority sites for conservation. The scoring system is based on the assessment of both
     habitat conditions (60% by weight) and biodiversity of a site. (40% by weight).


8.   FoEHK agrees that a robust and objective scoring system is the basis of any successful
     conservation policy. The success of the system, however, depends not only on its
     robustness, but also who, where, when, and how to use the scoring system.


     Who to use?

9.   The scores of individual sites will likely to be highly debated among the scientific
     community and also the landowners. During the assessment process, the Government
     should seek advice from a wide range of ecological experts before assigning the final
     score to a site. This is crucial to the credibility of the scoring system and can help
     government withstand challenges from other parties.
.
     Where to use?

10. Another key issue of the assessment is the location of sites. The government should
    consult green groups, ecological experts, and the general public to determine which sites
    should be included for assessment. Too narrow a scope will risk the exclusion of
    valuable sites for protection. If the scope is too wide to include many non-valuable sites,
    a resulting low score may give the wrong message to the landowners and the public that
    those sites are eligible for development.


     When to use?

11. As ecological values change due to natural succession and human disturbance, the time
    of assessment is crucial, in particular for sites under potential development threats.
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     Measures must be in place to prevent deliberate destruction of habitats as a means to
     interfere with the assessment process. These irresponsible acts happened at Sha Lo Tung,
     and a number of controversial sites before.


12. The Government should make it clear to all landowners that if there is sufficient
    evidence to suggest that deliberate destruction of habitats occurs after the release of the
    consultation document, the final score will be based on the habitat conditions before the
    consultation, the information of which will be gathered through government existing
    database or consulting relevant experts.


     How to use?

13. A score is only a number in itself and proper use of the scoring system is critical to the
    successful conservation of valuable sites. In this document, no details are provided
     regarding the use of the scores other than the general purpose of ‘identifying priority
     sites for protection’. Whether and how the scores will be announced is also not
     mentioned. As the scores will affect the possibility for change of landuse as well as the
     eligibility for conservation through management agreements, the landowners should
     have the right to know the aggregate score of their sites.


14. A priority list of sites for protection will be drawn up after the assessment. How the
    status of these sites will affect the decisions of Town Planning Board (on planning
    applications) as well as those of the Director of Environmental Protection (on approving
    EIA reports) should be stated very clearly so that future developers can identify these
    ‘no-go’ areas at the early planning stage. This can be in the form of a guideline issued by
    the Town Planning Board or the amendment of the EIA Ordinance as well as the
     Technical Memorandum on Environmental Impact Assessment Process (TM-EIA).


     The criteria and weighting of the scoring system

15. The proposed criteria are widely accepted ones and many of them are similar to the
    criteria in the TM-EIA. For the ‘degree of disturbance’, more specific description on the
    scoring criteria is necessary as level of disturbance can refer to many different human
    activities, some of which may be permanent, others may be transient and reversible.


16. Besides ecological functions, conservation has many other important functions such as
    educational, recreational, landscape and visual. The proposed scoring system
    incorporates only ecological criteria, which are not comprehensive enough and not easily
    understandable by the public. FoEHK suggests that more criteria on recreational and
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    landscape values should be incorporated into the scoring system.


‘Management Agreement’ with Landowners


17. NGOs are encouraged to enter into management agreements with the landowners
    through government subsidies or their own funding. Terms of agreement will be
    negotiated between NGOs and landowners and NGOs shall monitor and ensure the
    proper implementation of the agreement. This expedient method could, ideally avoid the
    sensitive issues of ownership, development rights and land resumption while achieving
    conservation in a cost-effective manner. FoEHK believes that this mechanism will work
    only if a strict monitoring mechanism and sufficient funding from the government are
    provided.


18. Management agreements should be approved with great caution. The track record of
    organizing environmental programmes of an NGO should be one of the most important
    criteria. There are thousands of NGOs in Hong Kong and the mechanism could be
    abused by people seeking development or unsustainable business activities in the sites
    under the guise of an ‘NGO’.


19. The Government must provide sufficient resources and monitoring for these agreements.
    It will be difficult and unfair for NGOs alone, with poor resources and lack of
    enforcement power, to ensure the success of these agreements. Clear standards should be
    set up to ensure that activities under the ‘management agreements’ will not damage the
    habitats.


20. The management agreements should focus more on the ecological enhancement
    measures and less on the revenue-generating activities. Most, if not all of the valuable
    sites are currently accessed free of charge and many recreational facilities may need to
    be built to enhance ‘market attractiveness’ for revenue generation. These
    revenue-generating activities may degrade the sites if not managed properly.


21. FoEHK proposes that a Nature Conservation Fund should be set up to provide financial
    support for the long-term conservation of Hong Kong’s natural heritage. (See the
    ‘Recommendation’ section of this paper). In the short to medium term, one possible way
    to fund the management agreements can be through the injection of funds into the
    existing Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) with AFCD closely monitoring the
    agreement. A separate vetting committee and different project assessment criteria should
    be established under ECF to fund these projects.


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22. FoEHK agrees that if properly implemented, ‘management agreements’ could be a
    ‘Third Way’ to the existing dilemma of ‘Develop or Abandon’ of ecologically valuable
    private land in the New Territories. Well-planned ecological enhancement measures,
    together with eco-tourism can provide added value to existing rural areas, and possibly
    revive many of the abandoned rural communities.


23. FoEHK urges the Government to facilitate a number of pilot projects using the
    ‘management agreement’ approach. Resource support including financial support,
    training and advice to the parties of management agreements should be provided. The
    Government, NGOs, ecological experts, landowners and villagers should all participate
    from the conception to implementation of the pilot projects. The ‘management
    agreement’ is a new concept in Hong Kong and by facilitating pilot projects, the
    Government and the public will be able to assess whether this approach is workable in
    Hong Kong.


Private-public partnership (PPP)


24. Under this approach, developers will be allowed to develop a ‘less sensitive section’ of
    their site provided that they undertake long-term obligations to manage and conserve the
    remaining large part of the site. This approach has been adopted by the Town Planning
    Board in the Deep Bay area, where many privately owned fishponds are zoned as Other
    Use (Comprehensive Development with Wetland Enhancement Area) or other similar
    zonings.
25. FoEHK has reservations about the large-scale application of this partnership approach.
    While the PPP approach may be applicable to fishponds in the Deep Bay Area, its
    applicability to other habitats should be assessed very carefully. Many ecologically
    important sites in Hong Kong are small according to international standards and
    small-scale development in one portion of the site can cause disturbance to local fauna
    and flora and degradation of the habitat as a whole.


26. To date, there have been no real cases of successful PPP in the Deep Bay Area as most
    development proposals are freezed due to sluggish property market conditions. In the
    consultation document, the Government encourages the setting up of ‘trusts’ to finance
    long-term management of sites. However, there are insufficient mechanisms, either
    legislation or administrative measures, to ensure that the developer undertakes long-term
    obligations to conserve the site. The penalty for failing to undertake the obligations, as
    well as benchmarks for measuring success are also yet to be defined.


27. The Government must establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure the ‘long term’
                                             8
     ‘management’ of the site by the developer. Normally developers have no responsibility
     for their development projects after sale except building management and maintenance
     issues, but only for a period of time. The meaning of ‘long term’ and ‘management’
     needs to be clearly defined and agreed, with clear performance criteria for assessing
     effectiveness of management.


28. FoEHK considers that non in-situ land exchange should only be pursued on a very
    exceptional basis and must be justified on the grounds of nature conservation.


Land resumption and ‘development rights’

29. ‘Development rights’ is one of the most controversial issue of conservation of private
    land. FoEHK supports the Government’s reiteration that most ecologically valuable sites
    are under agricultural leases and the landowners have no development rights at all


30. We do not think land resumption is a sustainable option for conservation. The recurrent
    management and enhancement are more important than ownership of a site. The
    resumption costs for all ecologically valuable sites are huge, but the recurrent ecological
     management costs are much cheaper by comparison. The expenditure of $20 billion to
     resume land is obviously financially and politically unacceptable. However, the
     government should provide sufficient funding to support recurrent management costs of
     ecologically important sites in the long run through management agreements.


Recommendations:

31. Conservation of our natural heritage will not be achievable unless there are consensus
     and commitment from the whole society. FoEHK recommends that a dedicated
     Conservation Authority and a Nature Conservation Fund should be set up to pool the
     expertise and resources from all sectors of the society to achieve long term conservation.


Establishment of a dedicated Conservation Authority

32. Currently conservation work in Hong Kong is mainly undertaken by AFCD, a few other
    government departments as well as local green groups. In recent years, AFCD has been
    very committed to the collection of ecological data, conservation of habitats, rare species
     as well as public education. However, many valuable habitats are destroyed due to
     government infrastructure and private development projects. Many ecological mitigation
     measures specified in EIA reports or Environmental Permits are quite fragmented and
     compensatory in nature (mainly due to the priority of ‘on-site’ mitigation).
                                              9
33. In Hong Kong, there is insufficient expertise among project proponents, consultants and
    contractors as to how mitigation or enhancement measures can be managed over the
    long-term. The absence of a high-level statutory body to coordinate infrastructure
    development and monitor all conservation/mitigation measures is an important reason for
    the lack of holistic approach to nature conservation.


34. FoEHK suggests that a Conservation Authority should be set up to coordinate, advise
    and monitor all conservation efforts by the government and NGOs as well as ecological
    mitigation measures undertaken by both public and private projects. The remit of the
    Authority should include the monitoring of long-term management of ecologically
    valuable sites under the Private-Public Partnership or private Wetland Trust. The
    Authority should have a wide representation with members from the government, green
    groups, ecological experts, landowners as well as other sectors of the community.


Nature Conservation Fund

35. Nature Conservation is about the protection of our natural heritage for future generations.
    It relates to every sector of the community, not just the government, landowners and the
    green groups.


36. FoEHK proposes the establishment of a Nature Conservation Fund which can pool
    together donations from the business sector, the Government and the general public. The
    Fund will be entrusted to the Government who will appoint an advisory committee on
    funding matters. This new Fund will provide financial incentives for management
    agreements, support research on conservation and finance long-term management and
    enhancement of priority sites for protection.


37. While large corporations in Hong Kong donate huge sums of money to charitable
    purposes such as education, anti-poverty, medicine, and welfare, donations to long-term
    conservation of the natural environment are rare. The scale of donation, if any, is also
    much smaller.


38. To sustain the long-term funding requirements of Nature Conservation, large
    corporations such as utility companies, property developers, and financial institutions
    should be encouraged to demonstrate their corporate social responsibilities by taking the
    lead in regular donations to the Fund.


39. After some years of operation and the accumulation of a sizeable reserve, the Fund can
                                              10
    undertake a wider range of functions such as land acquisition, promotion of eco-tourism,
    conservation training and education, mitigation and restoration as well as investment in
    nature conservation projects.


Conclusion

40. Nature Conservation in Hong Kong has been a complex and sensitive issue. While most
    sites are small and under varying degrees of human disturbance according to
    international standards, they support a high degree of biodiversity, and many species of
    international conservation importance. Most sites are under fragmented private
    ownership and development pressure is huge. The perceived development rights of rural
    land remain the most controversial element of all debates, many of which had to be
    resolved through lengthy and expensive litigation.


41. No single overseas model on nature conservation can be readily adopted for the unique
    Hong Kong situation. FoEHK agrees that a partnership approach can be effective
    provided that sufficient resources are available and monitoring mechanisms established.
    We urge the government to facilitate a number of pilot projects to assess whether this
    approach is applicable to Hong Kong.


42. Nature conservation can only be achieved in the long term under the support of the
    whole community. A Conservation Authority and a Nature Conservation Fund are
    recommended to pool expertise, experience and financial resources from all sectors of
    the society.


                                             END




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