Hong Kong’s plan to reduce its waste enters the realm of fantasy

i Sep 4th No Comments by

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

Tom Yam


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

Paper sent to attendees at the International Conference on Solid Waster 2015: Knowledge Transfer for Sustainable Resource Management

Time is running out fast for Hong Kong’s water buffalo

i Aug 18th No Comments by

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



Credit : SCMP 16 Aug 2015

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.

handout_07aug15_fe_buff4_copy_2Buffalo were introduced to Hong Kong as working animals.

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.

Lantau buffalo activists want cameras along roads to deter speeding

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.”

Jean Leung Siu-wah, aka the buffalo whisperer.

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.”

Foreigners say we don’t like the buffalo but they misunderstand us

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.”

IMG_0175 IMG_0176

Credit : SCMP 16 Aug 2015

LIM Response to Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau

i Jul 22nd 1 Comment by

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.

Response to TD re Lantau Roads by Living Islands Movement pg 1 Response to TD re Lantau Roads by Living Islands Movement pg 1 chi


The below Response letter contents can also be viewed as a PDF document in English or in Chinese.

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:

  • LIM is opposed to any further relaxation of arrangements for Private Vehicles from external sources to access the South Lantau Road at this time in view of the burgeoning demand for permanent LCRPs from local residents, which is set to accelerate further in the near term.
  • On the other hand, we strongly support provision of improved and additional Public Transport, including enhanced bus services, more licensed taxis, more frequent ferry services and other initiatives to improve individual and small group visitor access to South Lantau for recreational and other purposes.

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.

  1. The proposal to increase the number of coach permits to 50 per day is not justified by the data, except perhaps for certain public holidays and events. Therefore LIM does not support this proposal.
  2. The proposal to introduce private car access for non-residents is not supported by LIM because it does not address the demand for wider public access to South Lantau at weekends, and raises expectations of further increases in future. This demand should be met by enhancing public transport instead.

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

Comments on Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau

i Jul 21st 1 Comment by

The Living Islands Movement has received a number of comments on the “Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau” as mentioned in See the link for how to make your submission on or before 22 July.

Here is a selection of those comments:


It all depends on what relaxations are envisaged. If we are talking about a modest increase in the number of permits, e.g. allowing private bus companies to bring people over to South Lantau, allowing delivery of goods, allowing more than one permit per household, then ok, but a general free for all where anyone can apply for and obtain a permit will be a disaster. Parking in Mui Wo is getting difficult, the South Lantau Road is a nightmare already (due to appalling driving habits) and the whole of South Lantau is already getting much busier.

What is behind the TD initiative? What do they have in mind. It’s all a bit vague.


Dear Sir / Madam

As a resident of South Lantau, I do not believe that it makes any sense to allow general vehicle access to South Lantau road.

The roads are too narrow and winding to allow more traffic – especially:

  1. from the circle at the bottom of Tung Chung Road to Mui Wo, and
  2. from Shek Pik to Tai O.

This is just inviting calamity and danger.

And for drivers who do not know to look out for feral cows and water buffalo, this will be a real hazard. Any accident causes major delays are there are no alternate routes.

I believe that a far better solution is:

– more frequent fast ferries on the weekends

– more frequent busses on the weekends.

– a park and ride parking area in Tung Chung that connects drivers with busses

There is insufficient parking to accommodate additional drivers – especially at the beaches and other “tourist” destinations.

Please do not proceed with this plan.


If I read the TD’s proposal correctly, they seem to think that there’s plenty of parking during the weekdays. This shows they haven’t tried hard to understand the situation. There’s parking (well, ILLEGAL parking) available in villages during weekdays, but that’s because many cars have been moved to Mui Wo. TD needs to know (because obviously they haven’t bothered to look) that Mui Wo is absolutely overwhelmed with cars during day. There’s no longer any room on the pavements even, least of all on the streets (all of which is illegal parking, of course). There’s just nowhere to park. So, unless their weirdly assume that all 50 cars and busses will NOT go to Mui Wo, you might ask them whether they plan to build a parking garage there before this new policy goes into effect. And could they at least get agreement from the parking wardens not to do sweeps every few months? Those just make people angry; there’s no option but to park illegally. The same will apply to the 50 new cars.

Also, who will take responsibility for the inevitable accidents? It’s already hazardous enough driving on the S Lantau Road — hazardous to cars, to be sure, but also hazardous to pedestrians, dogs, buffalo and so forth. It’s scary to think that, ON TOP OF ALL THE NEW CARS DRIVEN BY NEW RESIDENTS (just a few new houses finishing up in Shap Long will result in about 20 new cars — because each house is being made into three flats), there will be 50 virgin drivers of cars plus more speedy bus drivers. It’s just not a good idea.

While you talk to them, maybe you could ask why Anthony Cheung cannot use his supposed expertise in public administration to get Housing (which approves the village houses, I think) and Transport (which approves the road permits) too talk to each other. The former should know that the latter will approve up to three permits per house. Where will all these cars park when they go to Mui Wo to catch the ferry, shop, etc.?

In short, I hope you muster all the arguments you can to oppose this plan. But they’ll do it anyway, I’m sure…


Dear Sir / Madam

Proposals for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions to promote Tourism and other Development in South Lantau – Your Ref L/M to TD NR 146/169-4

With regards to your letter, dated 3 July 2015, regarding proposals to relax the current traffic restrictions and closed road permit arrangements for South Lantau Island, I am writing to submit my commentary, as a resident of Mui Wo, South Lantau Island, N.T.

The road network in South Lantau is predominantly of a single carriage way nature, with significant ‘bends’, steep inclines / declines, and limited road distance visibility, in a substantially rural and remote country-park area. For example, Tung Chung Road involves a climb and descent of up to 1000 feet for vehicles.

Given the current physical limitations of car parking availability and the limited capacity and questionable safety record of the roads in South Lantau (notably South Lantau Road, Tai O Road, and Tung Chung Road), at present, it would be inappropriate to relax the current traffic restrictions and Lantau closed road permit arrangements, until extensive further capacity expansion and safety improvements have been made to these roads.

I therefore strongly recommend to the Commissioner for Transport that the Transport Department instead considers, as a matter of urgency, increasing the number of Lantau Island (Blue) Taxi permits from the current 50 licences to 250 licences, as a means of providing increased transport capacity within Lantau Island to support any efforts in increasing tourism and other development in South Lantau.

Furthermore, I would strongly advise the Transport Department to work closely with the New Lantau Bus Co., (1973) Ltd and New World First Ferry Services Limited, in increasing the capacity and frequency of Lantau Island bus and Lantau Island ferry services (Central – Mui Wo), respectively, to support the aforementioned increased tourism efforts. Where appropriate, the Transport Department may be able to provide financial incentives and subsidies to both firms, in order for them to assistant them in providing increased capacity.

Thank you for the consultation and I look forward to hearing from you.


Hi Lims,

Comments are as follows:

Relaxation can’t be done without infrastructure improvements. Including parking spaces and widening of the road with more pull over passing places.

With respect to parking the survey done by the transport department says 75% free during the week. But fails to mention that it was an observed snap shot of parking during the day light hours. The reality is the parking is over subscribed as soon as it hits 7 or 8 pm and remains so until about 8 am the next morning. With respect to Pui O you also have big busses occupying non-designated parking spots further compounding the lack of parking especially at night. Therefore the extra private vehicles will put pressure on the over subscribed parking spots from 6 pm to 8 am. Also parking in Mui Wo is packed after 8 am and remains so near the business district and ferry pier until the early evening.

For villages like Pui O car parking spots both illegal and designated are over subscribed. Some locals have taken it on them selves to impose self claimed parking bays with violence or vandalism being the result if you unwittingly park in those bays. The vandalism serves as a reminder to not park there again. These social ills are a result of the lack of parking infrastructure. This is also bringing about illegal activities of controlling parking spots on government land and in some cases charging to park in these illegally controlled spots . Some people own the land and charge for parking but will only take cash with no transfer or bank records so one assumes it’s not an income being claimed to the IRD. relaxing the restrictions will only encourage more vandalism aggression and illegal charging of parking.  People do not park in the designated bays with meters as they occasionally get fines, the preference is for parking illegally in non designated bays and further puts pressure on the pedestrian access areas as cars frequently partially obstruct these pedestrian zones. I doubt the relaxation will see an improvement to the lack of infrastructure that is described above and will only make it worse. Sure at 11am during the week it looks like 100 more cars and busses can be supported but the reality when residents return back to their homes in an evening that is when the capacity available is at its worst.

Villages like Pui O are so restricted in parking that some villagers are deciding to park in Ham Tin village and walk across the Buffaloes field. This inconvenience to them is a Small price to pay to avoid the vandalism and illegal charging. But it is just merely spreading the problem to Ham tin that never before had parking issues but is now gripped by similar problems big villages of Pui O face where parking is not available in the evenings and residents are required to squeeze their cars into awkward spots that would hider access to emergency vehicles should a fire break out etc. this is a big safety concern and one that can not be afforded with the current level of infrastructure.

Therefore if additional permits were to be granted it would have to be only daylight permits from say 9 am to 6 pm for private cars. They would need an electric auto toll system to record those cars with permits and to fine those that are outside these requirements rather than rely on police random yet irregular checks. This would enforce compliance and prevent the many illegal road runners that currently drive without permits.

Additionally Lims should push both the lands department and the transport department for allocation in all key villages for increased free parking for residents. With the public transport system being inadequate for these remote villages it would be advisable to look at the change in demographics and the fact that before it was usually locals that lived and worked within South Lantau. With housing affordability driving more city workers out to Lantau Island this brings with it a required reliance on vehicles for mobility. Now it seems 80% of residential dwellings seem to have at least one car. Before that average seemed to be about 50%. With the significant amount of building that has also taken up areas that used to park numerous cars being utilised for housing the infrastructure for parking has been exhausted. No more housing should be granted until this issue has been solved. Just take a look at Mui Wo where cars are parked all over the place. This is not acceptable in any other part of the world and Hong Kong should stop taking such a short sighted view and attitude that it’s not this departments job to consider such things. Everything needs to be coordinated if we are to avoid big problems in the future. It’s time to sort this out now rather than be another Sai Kung where it’s physically impossible to drive on a Sunday afternoon as the road becomes a giant 3 km/ hr slow moving car park from the hours of 3 pm to 8 pm.


I have the following points to make

Road System

That of South Lantau are the basics to meet the requirement of villagers/residents and the essential services.  I doubt if it is ever intended for urban-like volume of traffic.  Thus we have dual carriageways only on arteries, in essence, South Lantau Rd and its extensions (Tai O Rd, Keung Shan Rd etc.).  Access to the plentiful of villages, monasteries and beaches, are mostly, if not all, single-lane two-way, a challenge to average urban drivers.  But these remote spots will be precisely where visitors/tourists are flocking and I doubt if the current system can cope. A mishap on a village path can clog up the whole vicinity which may unwittingly cause local resentment.


There are only limited on street parking on the South.  Situation in Mui Wo is at present already getting out of hand whilst Pui O, Tong Fuk and Shui Hau are struggling, with nearly all open wasteland improvised and squeezed up.  An increase in the number of vehicles allowed in would certainly further exacerbate this problem.  Would-be permit holders would have problems stopping over for a relief, let alone parking.

Tung Chung Road

A superbly designed roadway with bus-bays and passing places.  It has a panoramic view all way through but unfortunately no vantage points are provided for, say, photo breaks or rest out.  Visiting drivers will naturally be tempted to make use of bus/passing bays and that would have an adverse effect on smooth traffic flow.

Unless and until a revamp of these areas, South Lantau is far from ready for opening up.

Proposal for Relaxation of Traffic Restrictions on South Lantau

i Jul 10th 2 Comments by

The Transport Department (TD) is conducting a review of the traffic situation on South Lantau and is proposing a relaxation on the number of permits for vehicles entering South Lantau.  These are referred to as the Lantau Closed Road Permits (LCRP)

LCRP Relaxation_Consultation_Others_Letter


They have asked LIM, along with other Green Groups, for comments before 22 July 2015.  It does not seem like they will be asking the public for comments so we are sharing the TD information incase the public would like to make a submission, which can be made by emailing

There is a cover letter and then the TD proposal which has already been submitted to the Islands District Council (Eng and Chi).

In June 2013 LIM posted about the road safety on South Lantau roads –

No Planning Dept or EPD reps to be at Islands District Council

i Jan 26th No Comments by

Dear Members and Friends

Update about Monday’s meeting – unlikely that Planning Department or Environmental Bureau representatives will attend the meeting.

The District Councillors have received written responses to Amy Yung’s questions so it is unlikely that government

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officials will attend the meeting in person on:

  • Islands District Council – Monday 26 January 2015, 2.00 pm – 14/F Harbour Building, Pier Row, Central

Here are the official responses by:

Below are the details if you still plan to attend the meeting.

Islands District Council – Monday 26 January 2015, 2.00 pm – 14/F Harbour Building, Pier Row, Central

Amy Yung, the District Councillor for Discovery Bay, has requested the attendance of Environment Bureau, Environment Protection Department and Planning Department to explain the relevant consultation procedures that were undertaken to gain consent from nearby residents for the incinerator near Shek Kwu Chau.

Amy’s request will be enhanced by a strong show of support from South Lantau – so do please make every effort to attend. With District Council elections taking place later this year, it’s a good opportunity to indicate our views to District Councillors seeking re-election.

With other future devastating developments already slated for South Lantau, it’s also an opportunity for us to demonstrate the need for early public consultation and engagement with South Lantau residents.

Amy’s question is about the (lack of) public consultation on the incinerator.

It is on the meeting Agenda for Tourism, Agriculture, Fisheries and Environmental Hygiene Committee:

Amy’s Question (Chinese):

Amy’s Question (English):

It is likely that Amy’s question will be raised to the appropriate government departments at about 2.30 pm. Simultaneous translation to English has been arranged.

Some members of the LIM Committee may still take the 12.50 ferry from Mui Wo, arriving at Pier 6 at 1.20 pm, along with our usual placards and banners (at Amy’s request).

The Islands District Council meeting takes place on 14/F, Harbour Building, 38 Pier Row, Central (about 10 minutes walk from Pier 6).

We strongly encourage your support!

The LIM Committee

Join EPD for site visit of the Pui O Wetland

i Jan 22nd No Comments by

Dear Members and Friends,


Site visit with the EPD and other relevant departments set for this Friday 23rd (tomorrow) from 2:30pm to 3:30pm.

Meet at the all-weather football pitch Pui O.

As we mentioned in the first email of this year (on 10 Jan 2015) there is New Dumping on the Pui O Wetland which has been bought to the attention of a number of government departments, including EPD.

Their responses to date have been rather disappointing and as mentioned we continue to look at options, in conjunction with other locals and interest groups.

Having a good number of people turning up at the meeting tomorrow (Fri) will show the Government officials that protecting our wetlands is important.

The purpose of the site visit is to have a candid exchange of views between the concerned departments and the complainants.  The representatives of the departments will take the liberty to explain the actions that have been or will be taken in resolving the complaints; and answer any questions that the complainants may have.

The LIM Committee

Happy New Year + updates on Funding for Incinerator

i Jan 13th No Comments by

Dear Members and Friends,

Happy New Year and all the best for 2015.

Two items to share with you:

  • Incinerator funding update
  • AGM on Fri 27 Feb


Well, our first newsletter for 2015 does not bring good news on the topic of the Shek Kwu Chau Incinerator.  The Finance Committee of LegCo approved the funding of it at its meeting on Friday 9 January.

Living Islands Movement (LIM) is very disappointed with the overall approach that the Government has taken to Waste Management, and will continue to campaign for radical improvements.

While the community has provided multiple options on how to reduce the volume of waste through better use of our:

  • existing waste collection facilities (rubbish and recycling),
  • landfill sites, and
  • the community recycling centres.
The Environment Bureau has continued to discount/ignore them along with suggestions of :
  • better separation of waste at source,
  • trialing of automated waste sorting, and
  • establishing trials for modern waste to energy technology

The costs for this project are incredibly high, and far exceed those for similar facilities in other parts of the world.

We believe that the major flaw in the Environment Bureau’s approach is its unwillingness to address and solve the fundamental problem of waste separation and recycling.  It continues to take the easy way out by just installing more waste disposal facilities like landfills and now an incinerator.

For at least the past 10 years, the EPD has never had a program to separate waste at source, the foundation of any effective recycling program.  It still does not have a meaningful waste separation program and we hope that is rectified long before an new incinerator may be in operation.

There have been many side promises made by Government during the process of planning an incinerator (what the Government calls an Integrated Waste Management Facility) on a new artificial island near Shek Kwu Chau.

It is time that the government delivered on promises such as:

  • Creating a Marine Park around the Soko Islands
  • Preparing a Strategic Waste Facilities Study
  • Piloting New Technology

There now seem to be few if any new avenues for us to pursue that might help stop the SKC Incinerator, but we continue to consult with other groups to see what might yet be done. We would love to hear any ideas that members may have.


Looking ahead, the AGM for LIM is going to be held on the evening of Fri 27 February at Café 8 next to the Maritime Museum at Pier 8.  We are trying a new approach to hosting the AGM and will send further details in a separate email.

To finish, two other quick updates:

  • we have been looking into what the committee would like to focus on during 2015 and are preparing to send a list out to members to get their feedback and further suggestions.
  • New Dumping on the Pui O Wetland has been bought to the attention of a number of government departments, including EPD.  Their response to date has been rather disappointing so we are looking at options that might require your help.

So 2015 is going to be a fun year again for promoting Sustainable Island Living and we look forward to having your support.

The LIM Committee

Dumping on Pui O Wetland

i Dec 31st No Comments by

We all know that there has been a long history of slowly filling in the wetlands around Pui O. Unfortunately a new round is underway and there is an active group of

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people trying to ensure EPD does the right thing – which is to protect this area by updating the planning rules. While we wait for EPD to do this we hope they will stop issuing permits to dump fill on farming/wetland areas.

Since early December one new area of dumping near the football pitch on the way to the beach has been reported to EPD. While EPD visited the day after the first report we are still waiting 3 weeks later for a meaningful response. So LIM has written a letter to EPD (LIM Letter to EPD about Pui O dumping – 20141230) and we have also been told that it will be another 15 working days before they will provide a substantive reply.

LIM Letter to EPD about Pui O dumping - 20141230 p1

Open Letter to Mrs Carrie Lam

i Oct 9th No Comments by

Subject: New Inter-departmental co-operation in the planning and implementation of a comprehensive waste management policy urgently required
Date: 2014-10-08 23:39

Dear Mrs Lam

The Environment Bureau is proposing to expand landfills and build an incinerator to dispose of Hong Kong’s waste, and claims that these measures along with waste-charging will reduce the per capita waste generated by 40% by 2022. We understand that the Finance Committee will vote on the proposal in October. We would like to bring this critical matter to your attention as it will affect Hong Kong in the decades to come.

A comprehensive sustainable waste management policy must be based on an integrated programme of waste sorting, separating and recycling. Such a programme requires the co-operation and commitment of the three departments concerned: the Environmental Protection Department, Housing Department, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

You already are aware of the dysfunction and inefficiency of civil service bureaucracy that hinders cross-departmental co-operation essential in the implementation of your policies and you made a personal commitment on this and chair an inter-departmental committee to address this issue. However, there is no evidence of any such inter-departmental co-operation in the planning and implementation of a comprehensive waste management policy based on waste sorting, separating and recycling.

As a result, the Environmental Bureau planning effort in the last ten years has been dedicated only to the expansion of landfills and the construction of an incinerator based on outdated polluting technology that will cost the Hong Kong taxpayer between 100% and 300% more than comparable installations elsewhere.

In municipalities around the world, every successful waste reduction effort has been accompanied by a comprehensive programme to separate and sort waste at or near source into recyclable and non-recyclable waste.  Without such a programme, expanding the landfills and constructing incinerators will not adequately deal with the increasing amount of waste. While waste-charging can help, as in Seoul and Taipei, the success of this strategy is based on having comprehensive measures in place to sort and separate waste so that recyclable and non-recyclable waste can be transported to their respective destinations.

In the past 10 years, no such comprehensive sorting and separation of waste has been seriously investigated for Hong Kong, nor is it in the Environment Bureau’s current plan. Without such a programme, waste management is confined to putting an increasing volume of waste in landfills and incinerator(s). This is not a sustainable strategy. While the Environment Bureau’s plan requires an 8-year lead time before the proposed incinerator is operational in 2022, comprehensive waste sorting and separation can be established in much less time and at far lower cost than the $18 billion needed for the incinerator and $9 billion for expanding the three landfills. As this waste sorting and separation infrastructure is developed, along with waste-charging, the goal of reducing Hong Kong’s per capita waste by 40% would be achievable.

In summary, our recommendation is:
1.   Withdraw the current proposals for landfills expansion and construction of an incinerator.
2.   Develop a comprehensive waste sorting and separation programme to be operational in 2018.
3.   Implement a waste-charging scheme in 2020.
4.   At each current landfill site, build facilities for waste sorting and recycling, along with appropriate thermal technology to dispose of residual waste.

With inter-departmental cooperation, these goals are achievable. This strategy will lead to a sustainable and holistic programme for waste management for Hong Kong, matching if not exceeding that in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe. Proceeding along the current plan advocated by the Environmental Bureau is essentially a status quo approach in which the current waste crisis is postponed to the next administration when more landfills and incinerators will be needed.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Merrin Pearse

On behalf of the Committee and Members of the Living Islands Movement