We just realised that we forgot to let you know about some potentially good news for the Wetland in Pui O (and also potentially other wetlands in HK).
The Judicial Review application, challenging the Government’s decision to allow dumping of construction waste on the pristine wetlands of Pui O has been accepted.
LIM is delighted that stage one of a Judicial Review, challenging the Government’s decision to allow dumping of construction waste on the pristine wetlands of Pui O, was won at the High Court on January 20. The Department of Justice, representing the Government, fought hard to have the application for Judicial Review dismissed on four grounds. Presiding judge, Justice Au, ruled that the Government’s argument, that the Director for Environmental Protection, does not have any discretion when giving ‘acknowledgements’ for dumping to occur, had not been successfully made. He further dismissed the Government’s contention that the Judicial Review had been applied for outside of the prescribed time limits and that a judicial review was not necessary because the ‘acknowledgements’ for dumping had either run out or were just about to.
This means the application for Judicial Review was successful and a full hearing at the High Court will now be held on September 27th at 10am to resolve the issue. You can join the hearing so make the date in your calendar. We’ll keep you updated on further developments and how to register to attend the hearing.
Here is one of the newspaper reports on the application – http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1903493/hong-kong-green-activist-given-court-go-ahead
Living Islands Movement (LIM) sent a letter to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), in relation to the recent report from the Director of Audit, Report 65 (www.aud.gov.hk/eng/pubpr_arpt/rpt_65.htm) which highlights that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has been misleading HK on the true situation with our landfills and that EPD have been promoting waste management strategies that are extremely overpriced and not fitting for a modern global city.
In short LIM strongly urge the Public Accounts Committee to recommend that funding for the landfill extensions and incinerator projects are rescinded or at least frozen until a full review is undertaken and the need for all components is reassessed based on correct information.
Read a copy of the LIM letter to PAC.
An informative piece by Tom Yam published by the SCMP (1 Dec 2015) that builds on the Audit Commission report titled “Government’s efforts in managing municipal solid waste“.
Tom Yam says a government audit of Hong Kong’s waste reduction efforts makes clear who is to blame for our growing mountain of rubbish.
If an organisation misses targets, mangles statistics, mismanages capital assets, underestimates costs, undertakes trifling projects and underperforms in a critical task year after year, will it survive?
The answer is a resounding “yes” if it is the Environmental Protection Department.
The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended)
The Audit Commission recently issued a report on the government’s management of the garbage, officially known as municipal solid waste, which Hong Kong produced over the decade to 2015. The Environmental Protection Department is responsible for waste management and has an annual budget of HK$2.05 billion to do the job.
By every measure, including the department’s own as set out in its Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (2005-2014), and the Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources (2013-2022), it fell short.
Key performance indicators for waste management have all deteriorated. Per capita waste disposed daily increased from 1.27kg in 2011 to 1.35kg in 2014. Waste recovered and recycled dropped from 49 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2013. Food waste increased from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013.
The landfill in Tseung Kwan O. As of 2013, 63 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste was still dumped in landfills. Photo: SCMP Pictures
The policy framework set a target of disposing of 25 per cent of waste in landfills by 2014. As of 2013, 63 per cent was still dumped in landfills.
The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended). The Audit Commission cites a litany of statistical errors. The amount of waste recovered for recycling was inflated because the department included waste imported for processing. Its forecast of a 50 per cent drop in food waste from school lunches was overstated because only 12 per cent of students ate lunch in school. It could produce no quantifiable data to explain its changing assumptions about the serviceable life of the landfills. It now claims that all landfills will be full by 2018. The Audit Commission believes they should last some years beyond 2018.
The department priced phrase 1 of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities, to recycle mainly food waste, at HK$489 million in 2010. But because it omitted or significantly underestimated the cost of some components, the cost surged to HK$1.589 billion in 2014.
The producer responsibility scheme for plastic bags has been rolled out, albeit behind schedule. But the scheme has yet to be implemented for five other products, including glass bottles. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Target dates for rolling out the producer responsibility scheme for six products, based on the “polluter pays” principle, have not been met. Only the first two phases of the plastic shopping bag levy have been implemented, in 2009 and 2015, six to eight years behind target. The scheme has yet to be implemented for the other five products – waste electrical and electronic equipment, vehicle tyres, glass bottles, packaging materials and rechargeable batteries.
Only four of the 12 government departments have signed up to the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign, which promotes reduction of food waste, two years after its launch.
With great fanfare, the department did launch a series of waste reduction, recovery and recycling initiatives. Their impact, however, has been inconsequential. Net reduction of plastic shopping bags disposed of in landfills in 2009-2013 was 11,544 tonnes, or an infinitesimal amount of total waste disposed.
… Article Continues though
TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE visit SCMP
… Summary of Article …
The audit report describes a mismanaged organisation that lacks coordination with other government departments, produces inaccurate information and statistics, and engages in inconsequential efforts to tackle waste reduction and recycling. It cannot effectively manage ongoing programmes, resulting in missed targets and deteriorating performance.
In the private sector, a chief executive accountable for such rotten results would have been fired. Yet the previous environment secretary, Edward Yau Tang-wah, is now director of the Chief Executive’s Office. The current one, Wong Kam-sing, is this week attending the UN climate change conference in Paris. The Environmental Protection Department’s director, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, has been in her job since 2006. Despite the audit report, all three are likely to keep their highly paid jobs in Hong Kong’s non-accountable government.
Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Living Islands Movement (LIM) was very disappointed in the decision of the Court of Final Appeal in dismissing the case against the incinerator earlier today. We now await the judge’s written decision.
This week’s Audit Commission report (http://www.aud.gov.hk/eng/pubpr_arpt/rpt_65.htm) which shows the Government have provided misleading information to the public about waste management and recycling is relevant to today’s decision because it was partly this misinformation that provided the basis upon which the EPD (Environmental Protection Department) sought to justify the need for an incinerator in the first place. LIM will work with other interested parties to further examine the Audit Commission’s findings and explore options for further legal or other challenges.
We continue to urge that the Government pause, review and then move forward with measures which would see Hong Kong adopt waste management practices fit for the 21st century in line with their goals to make Hong Kong Asia’s first city. One such example is that put to the Town Planning Board in 2013 (http://wastehk.org/our-plan/)
Dear Members and Friends
With the District Council Election taking place on Sunday 22nd November between 7:30am till 10:30pm, the LIM Committee felt it would be useful to ask the candidates for their opinions and intentions regarding some of the key concerns of the residents of South Lantau.
We sent a questionnaire to all candidates, focusing our questions on key near-term and long-term issues facing Lantau that have previously been expressed by many of you: car permits in South Lantau, protection of wetland, parking space in Mui Wo, transparency in district council proceedings, East Lantau Metropolis and future development of Lantau.
Most candidates responded, including two from Discovery Bay. All of the original responses (English or Chinese) are on the LIM website (www.livingislands.org.hk) with links in the below table.
|Code||Name of Constituency Area||Candidate
|T01||LANTAU||1||YU HON KWAN (RANDY)||Written (Chi)|
|2||LAU KING CHEUNG||Written (Chi)|
|3||YUEN YUK WAH||Verbal|
|4||TAM SAU NGOR||Written (Eng)|
|1||CHIU TAK WAI (FRANCIS)||Written (Eng)|
|2||YUNG WING SHEUNG AMY (AMY YUNG)||Written (Eng)|
|3||HU ZILIANG (JIMMY)||No Contact|
The below table summarises their responses.
We hope that this might help all of us to decide who to vote for to best represent the interests of all of us. We hope that you will use your vote in this election!
Here are some links the Government Election information:
– Polling Stations – http://www.elections.gov.hk/dc2015/eng/poll_T.html
– How to vote – http://www.elections.gov.hk/dc2015/eng/ebriefs.html”
The LIM Committee
LIM Member, Tom Yam, has done an analysis of the recently-released Hong Kong key waste statistics for 2014 and had a letter on the topic published in the SCMP. The letter highlights that HK in 2014 has recorded the second most waste disposed of and the lowest waste recovered in the last ten years. Tom suggests that the Environment Bureau’s program in waste recovery and recycle are inconsequential and a waste of tax payers’ money.
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 4 November, 2015
Your report, “Waste targets ‘set to be missed'” (October 31), on new data showing that more rubbish was dumped in Hong Kong’s landfills last year, came as no surprise. The latest figures from the Environmental Protection Department show per-capita waste disposed daily rose to 1.35kg last year from 1.33kg in 2013, while waste recovered remained at 37 per cent.
This is the second highest amount of waste disposed and the lowest proportion of waste recovered in the past 10 years.
This worsening trend – that is, more waste generated and less waste recovered – confirms my observation that the Environment Bureau’s target of reducing per-capita waste disposed daily by 40 per cent to 0.8kg, and increasing the waste recovery rate to 55 per cent by 2022, is pure fantasy (“Realm of fantasy”, May 19). With no mandatory separation of waste at source and no vibrant local industry making products from recyclable waste, the bureau fantasises about copying the success of South Korea and Taipei by simply imposing waste-charging. It can’t understand that it has to both decrease the waste generated (through waste-charging) and increase the waste recovered to achieve such success.
The fact is that the bureau’s every measure to increase waste recovered and recycled has had negligible effect. No trial waste-separation programme in public housing estates has ever led to city-wide implementation. The three-colour recycling bins, introduced in 1998, have never collected more than 900 tonnes of recyclable waste per year, a mere 0.02 per cent of waste generated.
Likewise, the HK$1 billion fund to support the recycling industry will not increase the waste recovered. Hong Kong’s waste recovery industry comprises small operators whose biggest costs are property rental and collecting/sorting/transporting recovered waste. Yet they can use the fund only to buy or upgrade capital equipment.
Moreover, their profitability, and hence incentive to increase waste recovery, depends on the international market price for recovered waste because 98 per cent of it is exported, mainly to mainland China. With the price of used paper falling by 20 per cent this year, and plastic and scrap metal by 50 per cent, no recycling fund will increase the amount of waste recovered.
The bureau’s efforts to recover and recycle waste are inconsequential, other than giving the impression of activity by its overpaid bureaucrats. With the unabated increase in waste generated and no increase in waste recovery, taxpayers’ money may as well be saved for the inevitable construction of a second incinerator.
Tom Yam, Mui Wo
Martin Williams (www.drmartinwilliams.com) has created and posted in youtube a very compelling video on the beauty of Lantau.
As part of the game plan to save Lantau from irresponsible and unsustainable development and to preserve its natural environment, this type of video should be widely distributed to raise Hong Kong citizens’ awareness on this unique green asset.
Please share the video with your friends and colleagues.
Tom Yam says the government’s plan to reduce our waste through charging – while doing little to encourage recovery and recycling – is based on wishful thinking and won’t be realised
Here’s a tip for delegates coming to Hong Kong for an international conference on solid waste: skip our environment secretary’s keynote address. Go to Disneyland instead. You’ll be immersed in Fantasyland either way, but you’ll have more fun with Mickey Mouse than Wong Kam-sing.
Wong is expected to recite his “Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022”. The part on waste management is as fantastical as Space Mountain, but minus the thrills. To reduce Hong Kong’s Waste Mountain, the Environment Bureau’s goal is to cut by 40 per cent the amount of solid waste disposed of per capita, from 1.27kg per day in 2011 to 0.8kg in 2022 (no matter that the figure in fact increased to 1.33kg in 2013). The bureau insists this is achievable through charging us for the solid waste we produce, along with public education, and cites the success of South Korea and Taipei in shrinking their waste mountains.
But the bureau is wishing upon a star. A waste-reduction policy based on reality, rather than wishful thinking, has to follow an inescapable equation: waste disposed is equal to waste generated, minus waste recovered for recycling. Waste charging can reduce the amount of waste generated. But equally essential is increasing the amount of waste recovered and recycled. After introducing waste charging, South Korea reduced the waste it generated by 23 per cent, and increased the waste it recovered from 24 per cent to 60 per cent. Taipei reduced the waste it generated by 62 per cent, and increased the waste it recycled to 60 per cent. The combined effect of generating less garbage and recovering more of it for recycling is necessary in reducing the amount of waste that needs disposing of.
A further reality that the bureau wilfully ignores is that waste recovery and recycling is impossible without a mandatory, systematic programme of waste separation. Recyclable waste, such as paper, metal, glass and plastic, needs to be handled separately from waste that ends up in landfills or the incinerator. Such a programme cannot be enforced without legislation. Taiwan has introduced such laws: a Waste Disposal Act and a Resource Recycling Act, which mandate comprehensive waste separation and recycling.
Similarly, South Korea introduced a Waste Control Act and an Act on Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Waste. It takes political will to push through such a statutory framework.
Key to recovering more waste is a recycling industry that can profitably process such waste into marketable products like recycled paper, glassware, plastic items and building materials. To support its recycling industry, Taiwan has an annual recycling fund of NT$6 billion (HK$1.5 billion ). It has become a leading developer of recycling technology. In South Korea, a government-sponsored Korea Environmental Corporation provides financial assistance to the recycling industry, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of recycling companies in the country.
Hong Kong’s pitiable recycling industry does not have the scale or infrastructure to process recovered waste into marketable products. For starters, 93 per cent of recovered waste is exported for sale, mostly to the mainland. In 2003, the government designated an EcoPark for a high-tech, high-value-added recycling industry. Yet the industry remains stuck at the lowest level of operations: collection, recovery and export of waste paper, metal, plastic, etc, activities with low economic value.
Relying on exporting also exposes the industry to external vagaries. During the global financial crisis in 2008, for instance, the purchase price of waste paper in Hong Kong plummeted from HK$2,000 to HK$700 per tonne. In 2013, when mainland authorities tightened regulations for importing recovered plastics, 100,000 tonnes of plastic waste piled up at collection points.
Without serious and sustained separation of waste to increase the waste recovered, the amount of recyclables is simply insufficient to support the development of a recycling industry. Relying on export, the industry will dwindle as waste exporting options continue to decrease, limiting the amount of recyclable waste that exporters want to recover profitably.
The government has made no serious effort to create an indigenous recycling industry. A one-off HK$1 billion fund proposed to support recycling companies essentially only subsidises local companies to recover more waste for export. HK$1 billion sounds like a lot but it’s measly compared to the HK$19 billion budgeted for building an incinerator, HK$10 billion for expanding landfills, and HK$8 billion for a sludge treatment facility. In 2011-2012, the budget dedicated to education, publicity and advertisement of recycling was only HK$24 million. The allocation of funding reveals the priority: building waste-disposal capacity, not recycling.
Scattered recycling pilot projects are being tried in some housing estates but none have resulted in a territory-wide programme. The tri-colour recycling bins on the streets collect only 700 tonnes of recyclable waste a year, a mere fraction of the waste generated in Hong Kong. Yet the bureau claims it will increase the rate of recovery from 37 per cent of waste generated in 2013 to 55 per cent by 2022.
While the government looks to waste charging in reducing the waste generated, it ignores the other side of the equation: waste separation mandated by legislation and the creation of a viable recycling industry. Yet without these essential components, it aspires to achieve in seven years from now what Taipei took more than a decade to accomplish. There’s a Disney attraction analogous to that aspiration; it’s called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
The protected wetlands of Pui O on Lantau are being ruined by illegal construction waste dumping and, as usual, civil servants are turning a blind eye, as villagers eye the profits of development, writes Angharad Hampshire
CONSTRUCTION WASTE FORMS AN UNSIGHTLY BACKDROP AS WATER BUFFALO GRAZE IN A COASTAL PROTECTION AREA, IN PUI O, LANTAU ISLAND. PHOTOS: K.Y. CHENG; ANGHARAD HAMPSHIRE; MARTIN LERIGO
Jean Leung Siu-wah is known in south Lantau as the “buffalo whisperer”. Slight and in her 60s, she moves with grace among the grey, mud-spattered beasts that amble gently through the island’s green, open spaces.
Leung has lived on Lantau for more than three decades. For six years, she has been feeding and taking care of the buffalo around Pui O. Every day, she walks through the wetlands, delivering fresh banana and sweet potato leaves and fruit to the animals.
One buffalo in particular receives the royal treatment. Ngau Ngau, a 13-year-old male with trademark majestic crescent-shaped horns, gets the pick of the crop. He huffs affectionately through his nose as Leung slaps his rump.
Ngau Ngau was once a regular visitor to Leung’s garden, in Shap Long Kau Tsuen, on the Chi Ma Wan peninsula, where he would raid her vegetable patch. Leung became fond of him, despite his antics. One day, Ngau Ngau turned up with a broken leg. Leung sought a vet’s advice and was told that if she cared for Ngau Ngau for a couple of weeks, the animal would probably survive. Thanks to Leung’s continued support, he thrives, despite having a shortened hind leg.
The verdant pastures and wetlands around Pui O make it an ideal home for Hong Kong’s largest herds of water buffalo. However, development is likely to see them vanish as the green lung deflates.
“These buffalo will be gone in 10 years,” says Leung, sadly, as she strokes Ngau Ngau’s hide. “The government is not doing enough to protect them, nor are the villagers.”
Ngau Ngau happily chomps his way through a bucket of banana leaves while two other buffalo mosey up to Leung, to grab a mouthful of fruit. They are all blissfully unaware that the ground on which they walk is at the centre of an escalating row, and that their future hangs in the balance.
Over the past eight months, construction waste has been dumped over four separate plots in the wetlands of Pui O, land designated as a “coastal protection area”. Dumping of waste on such land is prohibited, as is nearly all construction. However, the government’s interpretation of the law means it’s nigh on impossible to stop the rubble rising.
“The villagers want to protect their development rights but this area here is meant to be protected,” says Leung, indicating the fields that lie in the open valley behind Pui O beach. “However, villagers don’t think that way. They shoo the cattle off the land and then concrete it. Then it’s of no use to the buffalo and no longer worth protecting.”
THE WATER BUFFALO, Bubalus bubalis, is not indigenous to Hong Kong. Members of the species were brought here in the mid-1900s to work on paddy fields. Their power and waterproof skin make them perfect for ploughing alluvial coastal plains to cultivate rice. As Hong Kong developed rapidly in the 70s and 80s, and shifted towards manufacturing, farming declined. The buffalo were no longer needed and were gradually abandoned to fend for themselves.
The remaining buffalo are now feral and, as such, have no official owners, although the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is responsible for managing them.
“According to a territory-wide population survey on stray bovines conducted by the department in 2013, there were around 120 feral buffalo in Hong Kong,” says Esther To Man-wai, the department’s senior veterinary officer. She is in charge of the department’s Stray Cattle and Buffalo Management Plan and its Cattle Management Team. “Most of them favour wetlands and dwell mainly in lowland areas.”
Eighty-three of these animals live on Lantau; the rest can be found around Yuen Long, in the New Territories.
Water buffalo weigh between 400kg and a ton and stand up to 1.6 metres high. They live for about 25 years and are generally social animals, staying in family groups. One bull will form a herd, with between one and three cows and their calves. Bulls that are not successful in forming a family herd will congregate in a bachelor herd. Each year, other males compete with the alpha animal in a herd to become the dominant bull and take the group. On Lantau, there are three breeding herds and three bachelor herds.
“Even though they may not be indigenous, I am in favour of keeping the buffalo as part of the biodiversity of Hong Kong,” says Howard Wong Kai-hay, one of To’s predecessors and now the executive director of the School of Veterinary Medicine at City University. “They have been here for quite a while now and are part of the flora and fauna.
“Obviously, when you’re in government, you’ve got people who want them there and people who don’t want them there and you’re in the middle. So, what we thought was, ‘Let’s develop a policy where we try and pay heed to the desires of both parties in a sense that we don’t think we should remove them completely from Hong Kong but we don’t think they should reproduce out of control either.’
“The idea was to manage the population at the level that existed in 2011 and not let it grow further while not culling them for no reason, either. So, we set up a cattle team to try to manage the behaviour, to decrease the amount of trouble the buffalo and cattle cause to people who don’t want to see them. Sai Kung Buffalo Watch [the name is correct even though Sai Kung has no water buffalo, only feral cattle] and the Lantau Buffalo Association were also involved with volunteers and we all worked together.”
Wong thinks the government’s handling of the buffalo and other bovids in Hong Kong has been exemplary: “Government rarely comes up with policies that are reasonable and appeal to both sides. Too often we have a knee-jerk reaction – trying to eliminate the problem rather than manage it. People manage populations of wild animals all over the world, why should Hong Kong be any different? As [we had] a reasonable response, it got a lot of support.”
Ho Loy, chairwoman of the Lantau Buffalo Association, which was set up in 2004, explains how the beasts, which need a wetland habitat in order to wallow to cool off and escape insects, provide a unique service.
“Water buffalo are unique in that they can restore the condition of abandoned farmland,” says Ho. “If you just leave abandoned farmland it collects garbage and plants that don’t provide biodiversity. Buffalo restore water to the environment and the way they churn up the land with their hooves and horns encourages plants and wildlife that provide a water purification and filtration aspect.
“If you look at all the rural environments in Hong Kong, abandoned farmland is always between the natural water source and the village area. The buffalo provide an eco buffer zone. This protects the source of water for humans and also cleans any polluted water released from the villages. The habitat also creates a breeding ground for thousands and thousands of other species. They extend an area of wetland by up to five times. No other animal on the planet can do that; this is why we call them wetland angels.”
A study by the global conservatin group WWF has shown that when you put water buffalo into wetlands, the biodiversity of the creatures found there increases exponentially. It has been estimated that freshwater wetlands hold more than 40 per cent of all the world’s species and 12 per cent of all animal species.
Ho points to the canals formed by the buffalo’s tramping and churning. A fish leaps from one furrow, flips in the air and plunges back between plump-leaved wetland plants.
“Without the buffalo’s presence, wetland areas start to dry out and the special ecology with various amphibian species and beautiful birds goes into decline,” she says. “Pui O is the most important water buffalo habitat in all of Hong Kong.”
Less than 50 metres from where Ho stands, construction waste is piling up on that “most important habitat”.
In 2001, prior to a project to upgrade electrical cables from Pui O to Cheung Chau, power company CLP Power conducted an environmental-impact study of the habitat “between the Pui O villages and the Pui O beach, including the Pui O Marsh and Taro Bed” – basically, where the water buffalo live. It concluded that the land was of “high ecological value” and found a total of 52 species living in the wetland, “which is high compared with other wetlands in Hong Kong”.
“[The CLP Power study] is the only comprehensive environmental-impact study of the area that can be found on record,” says Martin Lerigo, an executive committee member of the Living Islands Movement, a group dedicated to the sustainable environment of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, with a focus on Lantau. “It documents in detail all of the wildlife and plant life here. It found species of plants, amphibians and birds that are rare to Hong Kong and semi-rare internationally. It provides substantive documentation that the wetlands are of high biodiversity and ecological value and that land adjacent to them would be the same if left undisturbed for 15 years.
Construction waste dumped in Pui O.
“As the study was done in 2001, 14 years ago, it is likely that these adjacent areas are now, in fact, of high biodiversity and ecological value. Another study must be done to establish whether this is the case or not.”
The Living Islands Movement has been working alongside others to prevent further dumping on Pui O’s wetlands, a project that has required both tenacity and patience.
The Environmental Protection Department says the CLP study is out of date and that the department does not need to consider it when “acknowledging” and giving the go-ahead for the dumping of rubble on the wetlands. The Living Islands Movement has asked for a new study to be conducted. With bureaucratic alacrity, the department says that, in accordance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, an assessment can only be carried out for “a defined project” and, as the dumping is piecemeal, it does not qualify.
People who want the wetlands, with their near-unique flora and fauna, to be conserved feel trapped in a catch-22 situation. The environmental protection and conservation departments will neither give consideration to the out-of-date assessment nor sanction a new one. It raises the question of how the departments responsible for environmental protection and conservation can fulfil their responsibilities when they refuse to assess whether a piece of land needs protecting.
The wetlands in Pui O lie within land designated as a coastal protection area in an outline zoning plan drawn up by the Town Planning Board for south Lantau. According to the board, “This zone is intended to conserve, protect and retain the natural coastlines and the sensitive coastal natural environment, including attractive geological features, physical landform or area of high landscape, scenic or ecological value, with a minimum of built development. It is also intended to safeguard the beaches and their immediate hinterland and to prevent haphazard ribbon development along the south Lantau coast. In general, only developments that are needed to support the conservation of the existing natural landscape or scenic quality of the area or are essential infrastructure projects with overriding public interest may be permitted.”
The plan expressly forbids filling and dumping within the coastal protection area. However, the government’s interpretation of the law means the South Lantau outline zoning plan is unenforceable because no enforcement controls, in the form of a document called a “development permission area”, were added to the original plan.
When this anomaly, which affected a number of outline zoning plans across Hong Kong that lacked DPAs, was addressed in 1991, the rectification wasn’t made retrospective. Also, for reasons best known to the board, when it amended the Town Planning Ordinance and the outline zone planning process in 1991, it was decreed that a new plan would not be allowed where one already existed.
In other words, south Lantau’s outline zoning plan, which is unenforceable, cannot be replaced with a plan that is enforceable. In effect, the outline zoning plan might as well not exist.
Consequently, the director of the Environmental Protection Department, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, who has discretion within the Waste Disposal Ordinance to either “acknowledge” or decline applications to dump rubble, has been able to approve four applications so far. There are more than 20 further such applications in the pipeline. If they are all allowed, the Pui O wetlands will disappear forever.
The Living Islands Movement and others have spent six months corresponding with the department while the rubble has grown into large, unsightly heaps. The department and other relevant government departments have given one reason after another as to why they can’t stop the dumping. Eventually, local objectors felt they had no other option but to take the matter to judicial review.
Ho Loy, chairwoman of the Lantau Buffalo Association.
“For a judicial review, you can’t simply say you don’t like the government’s decision,” says Lerigo. “A judicial review deals with whether the decision breaches the constitution and whether it involves administrative flaws, namely illegality, irrationality or procedural impropriety. The applicant for the judicial review, a local resident, is challenging this decision on the grounds that it breaches the outline zoning plan and the intention of the law that the outline zoning plan should be enforced. In addition, the Waste Disposal Ordinance implies discretion on the part of the [environment] director and she should have applied her discretion to prevent dumping of rubble on an area of high ecological and biodiversity value, exactly the areas that Hong Kong has committed to protect under its obligations as signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
“She should also have used her discretion on the issue of vehicular access, as the plots of land that have been dumped on were accessed by dump trucks crossing private and government land without permission. Plus, there is one plot that was fly-tipped on a year ago. The [environmental protection department] asked for the rubble that was fly-tipped to be removed by the landowner, who just left it there. The landowner later applied to fill the same plot and was given the go-ahead by the [department]. This is tantamount to the [department] condoning fly-tipping: a criminal act, which, ironically, is policed by the [department].”
In response to requests for comment for this article, a departmental press officer will say only, “In view of the pending [judicial review], we do not consider it appropriate to comment or provide an interview on this matter.”
Those who condone the dumping say the landowners in question have gained the required permission from the department and that if people are so bothered about saving the buffalo, they should donate their gardens to the animals. It is understandable why landowners want to despoil agricultural land. If, at a later date, the land is rezoned for housing – a distinct possibility if the whole area becomes nothing more than a pile of rubble – then they can build. Village houses on Lantau sell for somewhere in the region of HK$15 million each.
“It’s a difficult conundrum because most people find it understandable why indigenous villagers feel they have a right to develop their own land,” says Lerigo. “It’s worth noting, however, that the vast majority of the patchwork of privately owned lots which make up the wetlands do not belong to indigenous villagers but to property development companies, registered in interesting places like the British Virgin Islands and Liberia. “The majority of indigenous villages still have an affinity for the place in which they grew up; the wetlands and the buffalo are part of their heritage.”
“Foreigners say we don’t like the buffalo but they misunderstand us,” says Ho Chun-fai, who is a representative of Sai Wan Village and has lived his whole life in Pui O. “Actually, many of us love the buffalo but we also have our own interests. We also want a balance between nature and people but the foreigners ignore our needs and concerns and they only think about the buffalo … and this creates a conflict.”
That conflict is often stoked by misunderstanding, he says. “A woman was pushed off the path by fighting buffalo and injured. We are trying to widen the path to make it safer. As soon as we started, a complaint was raised about the dumping, so we were told to stop by the [environmental protection department]. But actually, it’s not dumping of construction waste; it’s a mixture of earth and a bit of rubble just to make the path a safe width.
“This is the kind of thing that really annoys villagers. The government is stopping us making it a safer place for us to live. We need the government to act as a middle man in this conflict and to explain our rights.”
Ho Fong-tim is another indigenous villager who is fed up with the attitude of “complaining foreigners”, and he, too, is looking to the authorities for a solution. “The government is not doing anything to help local people. The government needs to offer us some solutions. For example, it could offer to exchange the land. If that happened then the government could keep the fields and we could use the other land. The government actually knows about the problem but it isn’t doing anything about it.”
Lerigo agrees that the onus is on the authorities, “in particular those government departments responsible for the environment, conservation, land and planning, [which should] come up with a solution that recognises land rights of indigenous villagers … and the need to protect ever-dwindling areas of outstanding beauty, which we need to protect for the next generation of Hongkongers. There are options like land swaps, rezoning or extension of existing village zones, which, whilst difficult, can be achieved if the political will is there.”
“The government has a Development Bureau and a Lantau Development Advisory Committee,” says Ho Loy. “So, the government has the manpower and the resources to do it. We have educated the government about why we treasure this land and why we believe in sustainable development. We’d like our government to demonstrate that it cares about our environment and not just about money.”
Says Ho Chun-fai: “We need to be able to find a solution that suits all parties – the local people, the government, the foreigners and the buffalo.”
The focus is now on the Environmental Protection Department; will it live up to its name? If not, what will happen to Lantau’s water buffalo?
“I would certainly hope that [the conservation department’s] policy is one that would allow the continued presence of these buffalo elsewhere in Hong Kong, if that is the last resort,” says Wong. “One option … is the wetlands near Mai Po. There are already a few buffalo there and they are of tremendous benefit to the biodiversity, with their stomping and eating. The [department’s] wetland park [in northern Tin Shui Wai] could also take a few. There are some still in Kam Tin, of course, but development is rampant there, as well.
“Of course, it is best to leave them in Lantau.”
Following the invitation by the Transport Department to comment on their Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau the LIM committee have prepared the following response, in consultation with the community, which opposes the TD proposals.
21 July 2015
Dear Commissioner for Transport,
Review of Closed Road Arrangements in South Lantau and Proposals for Relaxation
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your Paper IDC TTC 33/2015 (the “Paper”) and the proposals contained therein. Living Islands Movement (LIM) has a strong interest in this matter. We have consulted and obtained views of members and discussed the issue at length in committee meetings.
One major concern is that many groups have different understanding of the meaning of the stated objectives of “promoting Tourism and other development”. These should have been better defined and articulated in the brief. But in general, it is considered that large scale Tourism is not suitable for South Lantau, and that other economic development is already proceeding apace in the form of residential housing of various types and projects such as the Mui Wo and Tai O Facelifts. Our view is that additional stimulus is not needed at this particular time.
We reflect these views in more detail below, but would summarize our opinion as follows:
Our views are based on a wider analysis of South Lantau’s transport needs, which we believe should match the actual and planned state of development of the area.
Traffic issues arising from rapid pace of Residential Housing development
As the Paper correctly points out, the current planning intention for South Lantau is for it to be preserved…….”for nature conservation and sustainable recreational and visitor uses”. It was also understood that there was to be a limited amount of low density residential development.
However, a rapid pace of issuance of building licenses for Village Houses, several high-end residential developments along the South Lantau Road and construction of about 650 new Home Ownership Scheme flats in Mui Wo are leading to a surge in demand for permanent Lantau Closed Road Permits (“LCRPs”) from the rising residential population of the South Lantau area. This growth in internal demand is set to continue for several more years as these projects are completed and occupied. The extreme pressure on public space for parking in Mui Wo and elsewhere, (even at the current level of vehicle ownership), is well known and on the current trajectory may only become materially worse over the next 2-3 years.
In this context, it is in LIM’s view inadvisable to begin opening the South Lantau Road to external private users at this time. Although the initial proposal is modest in scale, the direction of policy risks raising expectations of further opening to unsustainable levels. Instead, LIM recommends that the situation be reassessed when the Mui Wo and Tai O Face Lift are much further advanced, so that the actual impact on traffic and parking from all these developments can be properly assessed.
Issues arising from organized tourism to South Lantau
The Revised Lantau Concept Plan of 2007 also pointed out that main opportunity for South Lantau was as a destination for recreation (hiking, cycling, watersports etc.) and eco-tourism. The area is not considered suitable for large scale, mass tourist development. However, as the Paper mentions, there are two “themed” tourist destinations in the area, namely the Ngong Ping Monastery and Tai O Village. Both appear to be operating at near full capacity and need little further stimulus.
Therefore, we do not see the need to increase the number of organized coach parties accessing the area. Indeed, the heavy flow of return bus and coach traffic on the South Lantau Road at weekends and holidays is regarded as dangerous and environmentally damaging by the residents of affected areas such as Shui Hau and Tong Fuk Villages.
On the other hand, alternative transport arrangements, such as extending the MTR Cable Car service to Tai O and enhancing the ferry service between Tung Chung pier and Tai O could help to manage the flow of tourists accessing these destinations, and may permit additional growth in a sustainable manner. In particular, we think it desirable to encourage the Cable Cars to be used more fully in both directions, to alleviate some of the environmental pressure from heavy road transport.
Facilitating individual access to South Lantau for Recreational Activities
LIM views the growing use of the South Lantau area for recreational purposes by individuals and small groups of visitors, including many “locals” from other parts of Hong Kong, as a positive development and in-line with the overall vision for the sustainable development of the area.
However, visitors and residents alike complain of the difficulties of moving around the area via public transport. The shortage of licensed taxis is acute, and the bus service, although now enhanced at weekends, is still inadequate, leading to long queues and extensive waiting times. The ferry service to/from Central appears to be adequate at present, but will soon be under pressure from the expected continued growth of both resident commuting and visitor arrivals.
Overall, we believe the emphasis of the current discussion should be switched away from relaxing restrictions on private vehicles entering South Lantau and towards upgrading significantly Public Transport options for visitors and residents.
LIM would also like to see additional public transport options explored, such as introducing a mini-bus service and double-decker buses. Another idea would be to set up a private/public transport interchange at Tung Chung.
Safety and policing issues
Many of our members are very concerned about the safety issues that will arise from the relaxation measures. It is well known that the South Lantau Road and connecting roads are narrow and winding and unsuitable for large vehicles. Lantau roads are also dangerous for drivers who are unfamiliar with the conditions here.
The Police have already pointed out that they do not have the resources to either a) adequately monitor for dangerous driving and speeding vehicles or b) effectively ensure that vehicles entering the South Lantau area comply with the requirement to display a LCRP.
On point a) LIM and others have repeatedly asked for more stringent speed limits and traffic calming measures on key sections of the South Lantau Road system, especially those passing through villages, as yet to no avail. We believe strongly that this issue needs to be revisited before any further relaxation of access measures are introduced.
On point b), there is already anecdotal evidence of significant numbers of vehicles entering the area without a permit. Further, the Paper does not give any detail of how usage of the new day permits will be monitored and enforced. In our view, the introduction of electronic systems for monitoring and controlling the access to the South Lantau area from the Tung Chung gateway is long overdue.
According to the Paper there are already 4,000 permanent LCRPs in issuance, yet there only 350 parking places in the area. Of course it is unknown how many private parking spaces exist, but it is clear that so-called informal, often illegal, parking in and around the villages and Mui Wo in particular is an increasing problem. This has potential to cause social disturbance if not carefully managed. It is impractical for the Police to act in this regard since there are no alternative parking facilities. As mentioned above, this situation is almost certain to deteriorate further in the next few years.
While LIM supports measures to enhance transport arrangements for the South Lantau area, we believe that this should be in-line with the stated development goals of the Revised Concept Plan for Lantau. The greater emphasis should be on enhancing public transport facilities for the rapidly growing resident population and visitors seeking recreational and eco-tourist opportunities in South Lantau.
We recommend that the South Lantau communities be consulted further, perhaps through a public forum, on how best to improve the Tourist experience in ways that do not damage the environment and quality of life here.
Dr Merrin Pearse
Chairman of Living Islands Movement