The Hong Kong government’s controversial plan to build a man-made bathing beach in Tai Po is set to go ahead after the High Court again dismissed a judicial challenge on Friday.
Ho Loy, of the Save Lung Mei Alliance, previously lodged a judicial review in 2013 in the hope of blocking the plan that will affect 200 metres of Plover Cove’s 9km shoreline, home to a vulnerable species of spotted sea horse.
At issue was whether the director of environmental protection and the Chief Executive in Council should exercise their powers to suspend or cancel the Lung Mei project’s environmental permit.
The permit was granted by the director in April 2010 after approval of an environmental impact assessment report in November 2008. Neither decision was challenged legally.
That report concluded the project site was of low ecological importance, despite finding three spotted sea horses within 500 metres of its boundary.
A follow-up government survey in 2013 also found cow fish, dragonet and spotted sea horses as sighted by green groups.
READ MORE: Artificial beach in Lung Mei gets green light despite environmental worries
The High Court previously heard that spotted sea horses are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and are deemed to be of significant conservation value.
Ho argued that the project proponent, the Civil Engineering and Development Department, had misled the director when it said Lung Mei “did not appear to serve as a critical/unique habitat of any species of conservation importance, or support significant populations of such species” as no such assessments of spotted sea horses were carried out as required.
Hence she said it was irrational for the director to reject her alliance’s request to suspend or cancel the permit when the department gave “wrong, incomplete or false information”.
READ MORE: Activists gird for battle to block man-made beach in Tai Po
It was also illegal for the Chief Executive in Council to reject the same request, she said.
But the Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s judgment in finding that the director had already “sensibly and rationally” took expert advice at every stage in deciding whether further assessments were necessary.
The judges also agreed that the powers to suspend, vary or cancel an environmental permit were “to be exercised very sparingly in exceptional circumstances and as a last step, to cater for any unexpected significant or dramatic change in environmental impact that has arisen since the approval of the environmental permit”.