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Hong Kong government’s environmental report on golf club site professionally designed, lawyer says

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The Hong Kong government’s study on moths and bats at the city’s oldest golf course was “professionally designed and supervised” and able to stand up to any judicial challenge, the High Court heard on Friday.

The argument was presented a day after the court was told of a vast difference in the numbers of bat and moth species identified by the Civil Engineering and Development Department, as compared to those identified by the Hong Kong Golf Club.

The department found 38 species of moths and only one species of bat in its environmental impact assessment report for the Old Course in Fanling, while a survey done by the club identified at least 729 moth species and 15 bat species.

Senior Counsel Jin Pao, representing the government, told the court on Friday that the contrasting numbers was due to different study periods, methodologies and areas covered. He was countering previous arguments by the club’s lawyer that the department’s report was “deficient” and in “technical breach” of compliance standards.

The golf club last year lodged a judicial challenge against the director of environmental protection’s conditional approval of the department’s report, which could allow for a public housing project on the Old Course.

Development authorities last September proposed building 12,000 public housing flats on 9.5 hectares (23.5 acres) of the golf course, part of the 32 hectares of land taken back by the government.

But the court imposed an interim order halting any construction decisions arising from the environmental impact assessment report after the club filed a judicial challenge in response.

The government’s lawyer said authorities had given due consideration to the ecological value of the site it wanted to develop in Fanling. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“The study on moths was professionally designed and supervised by a leading expert in Southern China,” Pao said, referring to Wang Min, a renowned moth expert at South China Agricultural University.

Wang’s report looked at moths on the land that the government hoped to develop, whereas the club’s survey went beyond those areas.

Pao stated that the club’s survey had relied on experts who had used brighter lights to attract moths, artificially increasing their numbers. Furthermore, “among the more than 700 moth species found by the club, around 300 actually were the same species”.

In terms of bats, the government’s study had in fact found two different species when assessing the Old Course, only to discover that one of them was located beyond the designated survey area. Thus only one species was logged in the government’s report.

Pao said the most important elements to focus on when evaluating bat species were determining roosts and breeding sites, which the government’s study had done.

Authorities had given due consideration to the ecological value of the sites it wanted to develop, and its study adhered to the technical requirements of a rigorous environmental assessment, he concluded.

Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu Yuk-hoi, the club’s lawyer, continued to press his client’s case, saying the government had failed to consider noise, sewage and waste that would be generated by the proposed public housing project.

Yu added that there were other development plans such as the Northern Metropolis, expected to create half a million flats for 2.5 million residents, that could provide additional housing without the same ecological toll that the club believed would be exacted on the Old Course.

Pao is expected to continue his defence for the government on Monday.

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