Nam Sang Wai
Yuen Long, New Territories
The application site at Nam Sang Wai and Lut Chau is located in the north-west of the New Territories and adjacent to the RAMSAR wetlands fronting Deep Bay. It is one of the most important wetland systems for migratory birds on the southern coast of China, along the East Asian Australasian Flyway.
The site has a unique planning history which can be traced back to an application made in 1992 to the Town Planning Board (TPB) which included a wetland conservation area, a golf course and a residential development. The application was rejected and was subject to an appeal to the Town Planning Appeal Board (Appeal Board) where it was approved. That decision was appealed by the government right up to the Privy Council. In 1996 the Privy Council, by a majority, upheld the Appeal Boards decision to approve the application.
In parallel with the appeals being considered, the government had carried out an ecological study on the importance of the Deep Bay fish ponds. The study confirmed the intrinsic value of the fishponds for birds. The outcome was establishment of a policy where a limited amount of development could proceed in certain locations, provided a long-term conservation proposal was put in place. This was viewed as a “Public-Private Partnership Approach”. This policy was included in the zoning plans which now cover the application site and set the context for the applications prepared by Masterplan.
The Lut Chau portion of the site can only be used as a “Nature Reserve” and is to be developed in conjunction with the Nam Sang Wai portion, and they must be considered as a whole. The Nam Sang Wai portion is zoned as “Other Specified Use” annotated “Comprehensive Development and Wetland Enhancement Area 1”. Within this zone a domestic GFA of 306,581 square metres and a non-domestic GFA of 13,000 square metres is permitted. An application to the TPB for approval is required. That must show the proposed form of development and the type and form of wetland conservation that is proposed. A conservation management plan is to be part of that submission.
In October 2012 Masterplan submitted the first application which was a low-rise form of residential development and it was rejected. This was mainly because the development portion took up too much of the site (40ha) and that the retained wetland was not enhanced sufficiently to show that there was no net loss in wetland function. Having been rejected by the TPB an appeal was lodged with the Appeal Board.
In June 2015 Masterplan submitted another application which had a smaller development footprint (11.6ha) plus a mix of buildings of different heights, some higher than those in the first application. Despite the area of the wetland enhancement area being increased and other aspects regarding conservation having been addressed, the TPB rejected this application. An appeal was also lodged with the Appeal Board for this application.
The appeal hearing took place over 22 days and is the longest hearing ever held by the Appeal Board. It considered both applications together, but during the hearing the Appellant withdrew the low-rise option.
The Appeal Board decision was released on the 31 December 2021 (Town Planning Appeal Number 1 of 2017). The application was approved by a majority of members by 3 to 2. The approved development consists of a total site area of 177.35ha, of which 93%, or 154.45ha, is devoted to wetland mitigation. The residential development consists of 2,381 flats and 140 three storey houses. An elderly center is included, a public park is to be provided and a visitor’s centre included. A new bridge is to be built across the Shan Pui River for public access. The planning approval is subject to 15 conditions and at present Masterplan is working though them with the client, to discharge them so that the development can proceed.
This proposal is an extremely complex combination of conservation and development elements. It is a ground-breaking example of how the planning process can be utilized to achieve a most significant and satisfying outcome. It involved strategizing an application and appeal process over a period of 10 years. The intention was to present a scheme to the Appeal Board which could convince them that the project would achieve the ultimate objective of providing 154.45ha of managed wetland in perpetuity. The important wetlands along Deep Bay remain at risk, and the form of conservation approved in this proposal will go a small way towards protecting an important environmental resource of food and space for bird species which are under threat.