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LCQ18: Scheme of opening Sha Tau Kok Pier
     Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr Michael Cheuk, in the Legislative Council today (March 15):
     In June last year, the Government commenced a six-month scheme of opening Sha Tau Kok Pier (the trial scheme), under which a specified number of local tour groups and participants were allowed, upon prior registration, to visit Sha Tau Kok Pier within the Frontier Closed Area (FCA), and travel to and from scenic spots such as Ap Chau, Kat O and Lai Chi Wo by water vessels via the Pier in two sessions on each holiday during the trial scheme. Some members of the tourism industry and the local community have indicated that while the trial scheme was well received by tourists and local residents, the relevant restrictions imposed (such as the scope and hours of opening, as well as the numbers of tour groups and participants) were too stringent. Moreover, while the Government indicated in February this year that it would further open up the entire Sha Tau Kok FCA and relax relevant restrictions, Chung Ying Street in Sha Tau Kok, which is of great historical and tourism value, would remain off-limits. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the monthly numbers of tour groups and participants visited the Sha Tau Kok FCA during the implementation of the trial scheme, and among such visits, the number of cases breaching the legislation or travel rules relating to the Closed Area;
(2) whether it will, on the premise that specific conditions are met and upon balancing the security risks, consider allowing tourists to visit Chung Ying Street;
(3) apart from developing tourism, whether it has plans to open up more sites located in the Sha Tau Kok FCA for other uses;
(4) of the plans in place to make good use of the sites in the Sha Tau Kok FCA which have been opened and planned to be opened further, so as to tie in with the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy, promote the development of the area, and facilitate the integration between Hong Kong and the Mainland; and
(5) of the plans in place to improve the infrastructure and tourism facilities at Ap Chau, Kat O and Lai Chi Wo, so as to improve the living of residents in these areas and enhance the experience of tourists?
     In consultation with the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, the Development Bureau, the Environment and Ecology Bureau, the North District Office and the Hong Kong Police Force, the consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon Tse is as follows:
(1) Since the implementation of the Sha Tau Kok (STK) Pier opening up scheme in June 2022, the number of tour groups and participants visiting the STK Frontier Closed Area (FCA) each month are as follows:
  Number of tour groups Number of participants
June 53 1 464
July 57 1 495
August 46 1 274
September 57 2 108
October 75 2 882
November 54 2 083
December 64 2 746
January 51 2 127
February 31 1 406
March (as at March 5) 12 550
Total 500 18 135
     No cases of violation of laws relating to closed areas or other serious misconduct have been found during the implementation of the Scheme.
(2) Due to its unique historical background and geographical factors, Chung Ying Street (CYS), though directly adjoins the Mainland, does not have any physical barriers erected as demarcation of the boundary, and is the only place in Hong Kong where there are no boundary control facilities while cross-boundary movement of people and goods is allowed. From the boundary security point of view, it is necessary to continue to maintain the FCA restriction of CYS and only allow people with actual residential, living or working needs to access CYS for proper control of the risks of cross-boundary criminal activities such as smuggling. Therefore, CYS will not be opened to tourists for entry from STK, Hong Kong.
(3) The STK FCA covers STK Town, which is a small rural community. Apart from public housing, private housing and shops, major sites in the area have been used for providing various community facilities (including schools, market, sitting-out areas, playgrounds, car parks, fire station and police station, etc.) to meet the daily living needs of around 4 000 usual residents there. The small portion of land which remains undeveloped at present (e.g. the vacant land outside the CYS Checkpoint) will soon be converted into a rest garden to provide tourists with a place for sightseeing and photo-taking to tie in with the gradual opening-up of STK (except CYS) planned for early 2024. There will also be benches, arbours, landscape areas and flower beds in the rest garden for the enjoyment of local residents.
(4) The Northern Metropolis Development Strategy puts forward that studies should be conducted on further opening up STK Town (except CYS) in the long run. In his 2022 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced that STK (excluding CYS) would be gradually opened up in 2024 for cultural and eco-tourism activities. The Security Bureau, together with relevant departments, has conducted local consultation and formulated a detailed plan for implementation in early 2024. The area planned to be opened up will cover the entire STK FCA (except CYS). Tour groups and individual visitors will be allowed to visit all tourist spots in the STK FCA (except CYS) for sightseeing on any day of the year. The Government will set a daily visitor quota of 1 000 to avoid the flocking of tourists to STK during the initial implementation stage, which may cause nuisance to local residents. We will take into consideration factors such as residents' views and implementation experience to suitably adjust the relevant quotas and proportions as necessary to ensure smooth implementation. Moreover, the Police will launch an electronic Closed Area Permit (CAP) system for tourists of STK by the end of this year. The time needed for processing a CAP application will be reduced to three working days, offering greater convenience to tourists.
     As for collaboration with the Mainland, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has set up the Task Force for Collaboration on the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy under the Guangdong-Hong Kong and Hong Kong-Shenzhen co-operation mechanism to strengthen liaison and co-ordination between Hong Kong and the Mainland on matters relating to the Northern Metropolis, making full use of the synergy between the Northern Metropolis and the Greater Bay Area cities (especially Shenzhen) in such areas as industry development, land use and ecological conservation, and the opportunities arising therefrom.
(5) In order to promote green tourism and enhance related tourism supporting facilities, the Tourism Commission, in collaboration with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), completed the enhancement works to the Double Haven Country Trail which connects Lai Chi Wo in 2020 under the "Enhancement of Hiking Trails - Phase I". The works mainly include improvement to the coverage of hiking trail network, control of soil erosion at trails, enhancement of vegetation coverage, addition of lookout points and enrichment of visitor information, etc.
     Through the "Hong Kong Great Outdoors" year-round promotional platform, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has been introducing the unique natural scenery and visiting experience of Ap Chau, Kat O and Lai Chi Wo.
     For the benefit of villagers and visitors in remote countryside, the Countryside Conservation Office (CCO) is collaborating with the relevant bureaux/departments in carrying out various minor improvement works in Lai Chi Wo, including repairing damaged footpaths, constructing a new eco-smart washroom, and conducting a consultancy study to explore feasible options for enhancing the sewerage and drainage systems in Lai Chi Wo. Besides, to help revitalise desolate villages and support eco-tourism, the Government is conducting a review on the licensing requirements and procedures in regard to guesthouse and catering business in countryside areas. The first batch of 11 guesthouses in Lai Chi Wo obtained business licences in August 2022. The CCO, with the assistance of its consultant, is preparing a Layman's Guide on the streamlined licensing requirements and procedures, which is expected to be completed by 2023-2024. Through the Countryside Conservation Funding Scheme (CCFS), the CCO has been supporting interaction amongst villagers, local universities and green groups, etc. on the restoration of built heritage, cultural rehabilitation and nature conservation in Lai Chi Wo. Furthermore, the AFCD is actively promoting Lai Chi Wo, Kat O and Ap Chau as geosites of Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark. Tour routes and visitor centres have been established at these three sites. The AFCD is planning to launch the first phase of the Hing Chun Alliance Heritage Trail (linking Lai Chi Wo, Mui Tsz Lam and Kop Tong) in 2023, with introductory panels to be erected along the route to introduce village culture and history.
     Moreover, the North District Office will continue to improve the basic facilities and living environment of the rural areas in the North District (including Ap Chau, Kat O and Lai Chi Wo) through the implementation of the Rural Public Works Programme.
Ends/Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Issued at HKT 16:15
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