Lau Fau Shan – A Developer’s Tale

A land developer accumulated some agricultural land about half-way up the LFS peninsula with the intention of building the next generation of multiple unit, low-rise gated community. If you’ve ever travelled along the LFS road, you’ll be aware of its traffic limitations – it’s a winding, single track road with few passing places – not ideal for commuting.

The consultancy I worked for was getting a reputation for innovative environmental mitigation which got developers off the hook. All developments were suddenly environmentally friendly. Just a few years later, they would all become sustainable. Utter greenwash, all of it.

I was asked to give their agricultural lot the once over and rubber stamp their development. Consider, this was a remote lot, long abandoned and the orchard was overgrown with vegetation. Being an overgrown orchard, it had attracted huge numbers of frugivoros birds (fruit-eaters, in other words). I noticed this immediately and reported back to my office to say that in addition to the birds, the site was also potentially harbouring reptiles and amphibians and ought to be properly surveyed.

From the LFS ridge, sweeping left to right, the abandoned orchard

The lowrise buildings on the adjacent lot housed a large number of stinking, squealing pigs. Perfect neighbours for an upmarket condo.

This was relayed to a dubious client who agreed, but deferred giving instruction for the survey for a couple of weeks. When the instruction came, I was given a lift to the site by the client.

As the owner of an agricultural lot, he’d taken the opportunity to have some ‘maintenance’ carried out.

 

 

 

 

The scorched earth approach to maintenance had the effect they desired. The fruit trees had also been trimmed and sprayed so not a bird could be heard on the land.

The client was an ugly little man with with a face like a halloween pumpkin complete with extremely bad yellow crooked teeth who obviously didn’t leave his airconditioned office very often. He appeared to have bought an trekking outfit especially for this trip to the New Territories. He followed me all over the site, baiting me with comments like: “What do you say now Mr Ecologist? Is this still an important habitat?” Biting my tongue, I politely conceded that his routine maintenance had successfully removed any signs of life.

When I returned to the office, the engineering project manager was also sneering at the habitat destruction as he’d advised the client to carry out the clearance.

And that, should have been that. But, the developer failed to get approval for his site…because of the pigs (smell and noise)? Because of the neighbouring Inner Deep Bay Ramsar wetland of international importance? No, it failed because the LFS road was not up to standard. So, the developer was forced back to the drawing board to come up with an access road and all the land acquisition cost that entailed.

Amazingly, they went out and did just that and months later they were back at our company asking for an ecological survey of the access road. Unfortunately, it fell to me (again) to carry out a bird survey. Fortunately, the land was not hidden away on the west coast of LFS, it was in full public view of Tin Shui Wai, as they proposed to connect to the TSW road infrastructure. While the client certainly didn’t favour me to carry out any work for him, he realised that I’d had 5 or 6 years of working on the TSW development and was thus best placed to provide the connections and knowledge he required to get his project through.

I was called into the client’s office where I was instructed to carry out a two week survey of the access road. The same bad teeth gloated across the desk at me, but this time he was wearing his Armani suit. He wanted to discuss the area I would be surveying. We agreed on something like a 100m survey zone along the road alignment to assess the disturbance of both construction and later, traffic.

I approached that survey with my usual vigour. I recorded every damn bird I clapped eyes on. Nothing escaped my attention and back at my desk, I poured over all the reports and data we had accumulated during the previous years. I put together a report including some 50-60 species sighted, plus the other species known to seasonally inhabit the area. I included the international and local status of the birds. I submitted the report to the engineering project manager, who passed it to his client.

The client requested that I attend his office to discuss the report. I walked into an ambush. He was frothing out of his yellow and grey twisted teeth. He attacked the report, accusing me of exaggerating the numbers and inventing the protection status of the birds. I was on very safe ground, as I’d referenced every report I’d quoted from. In the end he just attacked me personally, saying I was trying to sabotage his development. I could defend everything in the report, so, despite wanting to rearrange his nasty teeth, I had to just weather the storm.

The client usually holds all the cards in these situations. If you want work, or if you want to get paid for the work you have already done, you have to follow their instructions. I refused to change anything in the report, but ultimately, the client can edit a report any way they want before submitting it to authorities for approval.

From the satellite photo on GoogleMaps (at the time of writing, some 12 years later), it appears that this development never got off the ground.

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