Pak Sha O threatened by developer

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    Pak Sha O is a splendid small village in northeast of Sai Kung Peninsula. Sadly, joined the ranks of way too many rural sites threatened by developments of various kinds.

    From S China Morning Post on 24 October:

    Sai Kung village, Pak Sha O, under threat from developer

    Conservationists raise fears over other unzoned enclaves in country parks as company buys up land in Pak Sha O and has it cleared for farming

    A Sai Kung village rich in ecological and heritage values is under threat from a developer who has bought up land faster than the government can freeze and zone its use, conservationists warn.

    In the past month, about 3 hectares of land were cleared and drained for farming in Pak Sha O, an enclave of carefully preserved century-old farm homes set amid a wealth of greenery and wildlife in Sai Kung West Country Park.

    The affected area is one of 77 private enclaves within country parks in the New Territories and on Lantau. The government listed the 77 sites in 2010 after the South China Morning Post exposed the misuse of such land in Tai Long Wan.

    A total of 54 of the 77 enclaves were unzoned in 2010. The government promised to protect the others, drafting them into statutory plans, but 35 – including Pak Sha O – remain unprotected.

    Now conservationists are raising the alarm because the developer in Pak Sha O has filled in ecologically valuable wetlands, which may be only the start of more development on unzoned land in Sai Kung's country parks.

    "Excavation machines have started digging up dirt, draining the wetlands and destroying plants," said James Wong Ming, of the Friends of Sai Kung. "We speculate [the developer] is using a 'first destroy, then develop' policy here to do what they want."

    At least 40 per cent of the saleable land in and around Pak Sha O village has been bought by one developer – Xinhua Bookstore Xiang Jian Group, owned by Lau Ming-shum, who also heads Treasure Spot Holdings…

    also on 24 October, in SCMP:

    Green groups urge protection of Pak Sha O and its environs

    Conservationists say the enclave that includes Pak Sha On needs to be quickly zoned and listed for heritage and ecology protection

    Hong Kong's best-conserved village – a century-old jewel set amid hills rich in natural life – is under threat.

    Green groups warn that Pak Sha O, and the rich ecological web that surrounds it, faces destruction if the government doesn't act to stop development at the enclave in Sai Kung West Country Park.

    "[Pak Sha O] is a rare mixture of man-made heritage, rare ecology and beautiful, unspoiled natural habitat," said James Wong Ming, a conservation officer with Friends of Sai Kung. "Out of the 28 sites we've [researched and reported on], this is the most impressive."

    A developer has bought up at least 40 per cent of the hamlet's saleable land, including several homes, and has already cleared 3,000 square metres of rich wetland for farming.

    The area's forests, grasslands and wetlands are home to 75 species of butterflies, 11 types of freshwater fish, 38 types of birds, eight species of amphibians and 23 types of insects. Among them are the rare and endangered three-lines Bagrid fish, found in only two places in the world – one of which is Sai Kung.

    Rare types of butterflies such as the white dragontail and chestnut bob can be seen, and the area is one of the few spots where butterflies take shelter through winter. Other rare species include the eagle owl, Chinese softshell turtle and Chinemys reevesii turtle – endangered species seldom seen in the wild today.

    Green Power's Dr Cheng Luk-ki fears developers may destroy the village. "Destroying a section [of land] with inappropriate construction and development will jeopardise the whole region and the ecological system."

    Might not be so bad if actual farming takes place; but may indeed be simply "farming" as cover for destroying ecological riches to enable development. Mr Lau does not look an ideal chap to be a custodian of HK's rural heritage; the same day, the Post had a report on him including:

    The name Lau Ming-shum – the developer who has caused controversy by buying up land in the Sai Kung village of Pak Sha O – is familiar to conservationists. It is not the first time the political adviser to Hunan has been in a land row.

    Lau, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference since 2003, is an adviser to rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk and the head of the New Territories Realty Association. An owner of more than 70 companies in the city, he is also involved in the sauna club business.



    Letter in SCM Post on 5 Nov:

    Historic Pak Sha O must be preserved

    Hong Kong's best conserved village, Pak Sha O, has been targeted by a developer.

    Green groups warn that if the government doesn't take action to stop further work, this historic village with its unspoiled natural habitat will face destruction. I strongly agree with the arguments being put forward by these groups.

    I think this village should be zoned to ensure protection of its heritage and ecological features.

    It is a thriving habitat for many species, some of which are rare, and I am concerned that if there is further development, we might lose the endangered species.

    Extensive development work can put at risk the entire ecosystem.

    Also, this is a well-preserved Hakka village and is therefore a unique part of Hong Kong's past and traditions.

    It is not easy to find similar buildings that have been restored. I do not want to see this place turned into high-rises and shopping malls.

    I really hope the government will act to protect this precious village, so that future generations can enjoy it.

    Valerie Suen, Tai Wai


    Longer, excellent article in SCMP includes:

    PAK SHA O HAS been recognised by the government's Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) as having buildings worthy of preservation. In 2009, a number of the buildings and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, which stands at the back of the village, were included on a list of 1,444 historic buildings drawn up for grading purposes.

    Its history can be traced back to before 1860, when Hakka families moved to the area from Yantian, in modern-day Shenzhen, and switched from fishing to farming and lime production. In the early 20th century, one of the families, called Ho, made some money through a successful venture recruiting workers for foreign steamship companies. The money was invested in the village and a family compound was built, comprising a watchtower, an ancestral hall with an open courtyard and adjoining houses. It is these buildings that are listed by the AMO and which still form the heart of the village.

    Pegg has been involved in the renovation of 12 houses in the village, including that of the Coxes. She says it was her appreciation of the historical value of the village and its environment that inspired her to take on the projects, repairing broken roofs, windows, doors and cracked walls, and replacing flooring.

    … 'I have poured my heart into this village. We and our neighbours have worked very hard to maintain the village and its character. It is a very beautiful village. It has a lot of history and the special thing about it is that it is being lived in,' she says.

    The company behind the applications is Xinhua Bookstore Xiang Jiang Group. Its director, Lau Ming-shum, refused several requests to answer questions about the proposed houses or give any reassurances about retaining the character of the village. In an e-mailed response sent through an employee, Lau said: 'This is not the right time to give any comments.'

    According to the Companies Registry, Lau is the director of a number of companies, including the Treasure Group, which shares the same Tai Po address as Xinhua Bookstore. The Treasure Group website says it is a licensed moneylender that specialises in financing, mortgages, the sale and purchase of land and the construction of village houses. It credits itself with building more than 1,000 village houses in Sha Tin, Tai Po and Sai Kung. It also features a gallery of photographs of the kind of houses it has built. They are three-storey blocks, with smooth plastered walls, ornate wrought-iron railings, flat rooftops, balconies and ordered landscaped gardens.

    They are not the kind of buildings that complement the natural charm and untamed wilderness of Pak Sha O…

    Plots on the Landscape

    China Daily has also carried a fine article – also by Hazel Knowles – on the village, including:

    The future of this village where Hong Kong’s rural past is freeze-framed is coming under threat, say residents. The village people are concerned about a plan to build modern houses in the heart of the 150-year-old village.

    A Tai Po company has submitted applications to the Lands Department to build two three-storey houses. The plan, if it gets the go-ahead, will see the first new buildings in the Pak Sha O in almost 50 years and the first examples of modern-day architecture in the village.

    Residents fear the new houses will mark the beginning of the end for the village and that many more new houses could follow. The current residents want to preserve what they considered an important part of Hong Kong’s history. “It really would be tragic,” said village resident Tim Kay. “As far as I know this is a unique village. It’s a living Hakka village. It must be one of the best examples of a Hakka village that’s not surrounded by modern development.

    “Most other Hakka villages around Hong Kong are either so remote they have been left to fall down or the ones with roads to them have been developed.”

    Unravelling the Past

    There's a fine blog post by Richard Peters, including:

    this village is a small, vulnerable and fragile remnant of a past era of simple, somewhat-unassuming Hakka folk that literally forged their lives from the environment. Its unambitious beauty really does mean for some, 'once bitten, forever smitten'!


    Martin Williams

      googling re the intriguing Mr Lau, found this re a court case in which he was defendant:

      I found the defendant a most evasive witness, more often than not failing to give an answer to the questions put to him by Mr John Swaine, and sometimes pausing significantly before answering a simple question which required the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  He gave me the clear impression that he was prepared to temper his evidence according to the prevailing wind.  The story he put forward is so contrived as to be lacking in reality.  He ran this business as his own fiefdom.  He had had the money from the plaintiff and simply used it as he thought fit without any regard to the plaintiff’s interest.  He seems to have had no conception of how to treat properly an “investment” of the proportions made by the plaintiff.  His contrived picture of a properly run business with the plaintiff employed at the hub of affairs was a charade. An effort was made to suggest that a bundle of documents – some of which clearly had the official mark of some record office or registry on the Mainland – which had come into the plaintiff’s possession most properly, as I find, from his Mainland lawyers involved on his behalf in the litigation on the Mainland, concerning the tenancy of part of the premises used for the hotel project ‑ indicated that he was heavily involved with the running of the Management Company.  I reject that contention as unreal.

      On that I part company with Mr. Chan.  I find the plaintiff entirely credible and the defendant, for the most part, just not credible save where he confirms expressly or by implication in his evidence that the plaintiff was to have shares to represent his investment.

      I see Lau appealed the verdict, and lost; with judge comments including:

      The Judge has also pointed to the fact that the defendant has not produced any documentary evidence to show what had become of the payments made by the plaintiff after the cheques were deposited into the defendant’s bank account.

      Might be of interest;

      including, perhaps, to anyone who isn’t sure if should have business dealings w Mr Lau…  …

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