Category: Environment

This is what trashing the wetlands looks like

A Hong Kong judge yesterday gave the go-ahead for a judicial review into the dumping of landfill onto Pui O wetlands.

The core issue is the role of the Environment Protection Department (EPD) in allowing the dumping.  The EPD argued that director Annissa Wong had no choice but to let it go ahead.

Lot 2406 lease

The dumping has been taking place for more than year. On top of the landfill in one lot (above) the landowner has erected prefabricated huts with water and electricity supply, a septic tank, a paved terrace, outdoor seating, lighting, storage sheds and a fire pit.
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High-end living lands in Lantau

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At no 20: prime view and a pool

If you’re feeling limited by Lantau’s lifestyle choices you now have a new one – opulent living.

Not one but two high-end housing developments have come on the market in the last six months, exemplifying perhaps South Lantau’s transition from sleepy backwater to development hot spot.

Kelly Merrick from Home Solutions kindly took Lantau Confidential for a tour of White Sands early this month. From her perspective it’s the arrival of much-needed new inventory. “There’s been nothing like this previously on Lantau,” she said.

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Election 2015 preview

Whoever said the internet has changed politics never visited Lantau. The battle for Hong Kong’s biggest electoral district is strictly analogue. No Twitter wars here. Issues and platforms are less important in Lantau’s murky politics than patronage, clan loyalties and personal feuds.

The island rural committees dominate both local politics and the Island District Council (IDC). Although the government no longer appoints councillors, rural committee heads are automatically granted seats. As well as the ten elected members the Islands Council will have eight ex officio members from the rural committees – pretty much a lock.

Randy Yu, the rural committee candidate for Lantau and, if he wins, the likely next IDC chairman, should also be a lock. But the retirement of the unlamented Rainbow Wong,the development controversies and the Occupy fallout have made this contest interesting. Continue reading

Trashing the wetlands, with a little help from the EPD

The Environmental Protection Dept has taken time out from authoring the destruction of Shek Kwu Chau to trashing the Pui O wetlands.

The EPD has given the go-ahead for a series of construction waste dumpings on the wetlands. Local residents have logged eight incidents of dumping in recent weeks. Like this one.

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Democracy in action (or should that be ‘inaction’?)

LegCo building

On my last visit to LegCo the taxi driver thought it was the High Court and proceeded up the hill past the Shangri-La. He was ex-mainland, but these days you can almost understand the confusion.

This journey was to make my contribution to the waste management ‘debate’. Hong Kong citizens have the right to directly make their argument on issues to an appropriate LegCo committee, in this case the Environmental Panel (wondering: can we do this for the electoral reform bill?). I’ve been thinking about whether this is an admirable exercise in pure democracy or a complete waste of time, but I’ve had to come down in favour of the latter.

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A monument to waste

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Hong Kong suffers from bad decisions because of our dysfunctional system.

In particular, it encourages grandiose public works in favour of long-term problem-solving. Officials have come to regard capital works as a salve to any of our problems because it is virtually cost-free financially, politically and professionally.

From the Stonecutters Bridge to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, the territory is littered with lightly-used boondoggles. We are right now well-advanced in building a road-only bridge across the Pearl River that will cut travel time by just 15 minutes. While other cities are building cycle paths and pedestrian walkways, we are unique in expanding the road network.

So it’s no surprise that we are late in tackling the issue of waste. From personal experience, I can attest that Taipei City was collecting recyclables from all residents 17 years ago. But in Hong Kong there is little reward for reducing our mountain of waste and more importantly no penalty for not doing so, just as there is no penalty for not cleaning up the air or failing to provide affordable housing. Continue reading

Park politics

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Across the mainland, enthusiasm may have waned for Chairman Mao’s vision of turning cities into forests of smokestacks, but Hong Kong’s ambition to engorge the territory with concrete still burns bright.

In the past decade alone, monuments like the Stonecutters Bridge, the Guangzhou rail link, the Central-Wanchai bypass, and the Macau bridge have been built out of wads of taxpayer cash .

So when former Exco member Franklin Lam describes Lantau as the “ugly duckling” of Hong Kong, he is part of a grand tradition.

Treading the same cement path as Development Secretary Paul Chan, who opened up the topic five months ago, Lam has  created a minor flap with his call for the “green development” of Lantau country parks. His remarks carry weight not just because any such suggestions feed the city’s concrete addiction. As a member of the just-created Lantau Development Advisory Committee he is in a position to do something about it.

(For those wondering, he is not cleverly trying to stoke support for artificial islands by making even those seem a better option than the trashing of country parks. Lam actually said that the marine environment is more valuable than the parks, though he didn’t say why, nor did he have anything to say about the all-but extinct pink dolphin.)

It’s not that we don’t need to have a debate about housing and land-use, or that there aren’t sections of country parks of minimal environmental value (usually as the result of deliberate abuse).

But here’s what Bill Talbot, who set up the country parks in 1965 and is now a World Bank and UN environment adviser, had to say to the Post in September:

“Experience worldwide shows that once development is allowed to invade parks and protected areas, the process continues and often accelerates. It is like the camel’s nose under the tent.”

That goes double in the deformed political economy of Hong Kong.

Hong Kongers are reminded of this daily in the current constitutional ‘consultation’, where advocates for the rich and powerful are queuing up to demand protections against the ravages of democracy. According to a SCMP reader poll in September, 70% of the population is opposed to country park development. But Lam and others know they don’t need wide public support. They just need to excise a few degraded corners of country parks, and from there the process will take care of itself.

Lantau development mania

LC construction

When Hong Kong’s British rulers announced plans for a new airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1990, they set off a minor boom on Lantau. Not even the sleepy southern parts were immune; I bought my South Lantau apartment in 2006 at below the 1994 price.

But that has nothing on the scale of what is planned for the next decade. While most of these projects are strictly speaking offshore, all will impact massively on the Lantau physical and living environment – especially for Tung Chung residents.

For easy reference, I have mapped all the current and proposed mega-projects here.

The biggest of these, like the pointless Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the environmental and financial disaster that would be the Shek Kwu Chu incinerator, are already notorious. But who knew that to accommodate the bridge landing zone will be a 130-ha artificial island off Chek Lap Kok? Or that another equally massive reclamation is envisaged to stretch from the other side of Tung Chung Bay? Or of the two-lane, 5-km long subsea tunnel to Tuen Mun?

Much of this frenetic pouring of cement centres around the 55-km Macau bridge, which not even the biggest boosters believe offers any significant time saving (famously, it’s a road bridge only).

The best that can be said of this tsunami of concrete is that it may absorb some of the 100 million tourists that the government, in one of its most deranged forecasts ever, expects this already severely-overloaded city to warmly welcome in ten years.

More accurately it tells the story of Hong Kong’s plight – the cronyism, the bad air, the deteriorating social amenity, the exorbitant property prices, the willingness to tip taxpayer funds into grandiose objects. Over and above all of this are the declining terms of political trade with the mainland.

Each of those projects is worth a story in itself. I wrote about them in a little more detail for the Life on Lantau magazine February issue, out now and available at locations around Lantau.

Here on Lantau, Hong Kong’s cheapest property

Running around Chi Ma Wan peninsula last year I noticed a bunch of apartments on the shore below. Not knowing the epic importance of the dwellings, I took this photograph from just the other side of the point.

Sea Ranch Almost

That’s pretty much the same stunning view as residents get daily. Who wouldn’t want a part of it?

The answer is, no-one.  Even in land-scarce Hong Kong.

The place is called Sea Ranch. Built some 20 years ago, it has entered Hong Kong legend as a semi-deserted ghost village. Not quite on the same scale as Skyfall‘s Hashima Island, but important enough to rate a mention in Time Out‘s ‘Secret Hong Kong’.

The awkward location and lack of transport links have doubtless contributed to the exit of owners and tenants. At $732 per square foot it is surely Hong Kong’s best-priced accommodation (thanks, Big Lychee). That’s six times less than the South Lantau average of $4,704 for November.

But what’s that smack in the middle of the foreground? Yes, Shek Kwu Chau, the government’s favourite location for super-incinerator and wharf, promising the arrival of 3,000 tonnes of garbage daily and likely toxic emissions. No wonder it’s been abandoned by the market.

The incinerator is back – but don’t give up on Shek Kwu Chau yet

The super-incinerator is back – not that it was ever completely canned – and in fact is inevitable, according to Environment Under-Secretary Christine Loh.
Citizens vs the Super-Incinerator

“We’re going to need treatment – we’re going to need a big one,” she told RTHK’s Backchat programme today.

But there’s good news as well bad news in the remarks by the former head of Civic Exchange, who has taken on board some lessons of the Shek Kwu Chau debacle.

First, she’s proposing a holistic approach to the city’s waste problem, rather than trying to solve it with a boondoggle.
 
Second, she promises the government will seek the best technology, and in fact was dismissive of what she termed the “dioxin-spewing” SKC facility.
 
Third, the government is a long way from deciding where any future incinerator will be built.
 
Loh said following CY Leung’s policy address last week, which had called for “an integrated waste treatment system,” the department would issue a waste management blueprint by the end of March.
 
We want to put all the things that HK has to do to have a modern waste reduction, waste separation, recycling, treatment, whether it’s incineration treatment technology as well as landfill. We want to put it on one piece of paper so that everyone can see what has to be done and why and when we might need to take certain decisions.
 
The paper would canvass what incineration would involve and “when do you have to do it, what kind of size do you really need, and people can have a chat about what different technologies are out there,” she said.
 
Loh said the government seek advice from experts on waste technology, and not just those who are selling the equipment.
 

The idea is that whatever technology we go for in the end, it’s going to be waste-to-energy, a much more updated scheme.

Bottom line is that Loh has pretty much completely reset the government’s waste management policy. You’d think her more considered approach makes it harder for proponents of Shek Kwu Chau, which was a fail on cost, technology, environmental impact, location and policy-making grounds.

But those have never been obstacles before, so let’s watch this space.

UPDATE: Here’s the audio of the Backchat session.