Hong Kong wetlands face ‘significant’ threat after court ruling: LIM

Hong Kong’s remaining wetland areas are under threat after a High Court has ruled the government cannot prevent landowners from dumping rubbish on wetland sites, green group Living Islands Movement (LIM) has warned.

Yesterday’s judicial review decision over the dumping of waste on a Pui O wetland plot “means that Hong Kong will likely now lose a significant amount of its last remaining wetland habitats,” LIM said in a statement.

“This land in question was zoned as ‘Coastal Protection Area’ by the Government and their intent that it should be protected was clear in the zoning regulations.”

A local resident, Christian Masset, had sought a judicial review into the approval by the director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) of waste dumping on a privately-owned Pui O allotment in 2015.

Under the Waste Disposal Ordinance, landowners are permitted to dump landfill on their own land, but must seek EPD approval to do so.

Masset had argued that the EPD director had the power under the law to refuse approval. However, Justice Kenneth Au ruled that the director did not have that power.

LIM said:

It seems illogical to us and other observers that the Hong Kong Government, leading a ‘World City’, would conclude that they have no authority to prevent a private landowner destroying a valuable wetland habitat which is also a biodiversity hotspot and home to rare and semi-rare species of wetland animals and plants. 

The landfilling related to this case has also destroyed part of the habitat sustaining Hong Kong’s last remaining feral herd of water buffaloes, a unique aspect of Hong Kong’s cultural legacy, something that should be valued and protected for future generations.

The case once again highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Hong Kong’s wetlands protection laws and the government’s unwillingness to confront developers and rural landowners.

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint issued 15 months ago specifically calls for the preservation of South Lantau’s wetlands. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she sees no reason to change the law and refuses to condemn wetland dumping.

LIM called on the government to amend the legislation and implement statutory protections for Coastal Protection Areas. These were established by the colonial government 30 years ago for ecologically significant coastal zones across the city, but lack any enforceable safeguards.

LIM also expressed concern that it had taken two years for Au to issue his decision.

“This is a clear indication that the judicial process in Hong Kong is broken.  We ask the Secretary for Justice to explain this unacceptable delay and outline how she will fix the problem.”

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