Illegal land filling consuming Tong Fuk coastal greenbelt
Tong Fuk has become the latest Lantau village to suffer from unauthorised land clearance, a result of the vague planning laws and lack of enforcement that have plagued the rest of the island.
In the last three years, reclamation work has claimed hundreds of square metres of greenbelt between Tong Fuk village and the oceanfront, HK01 has reported.
The original work created a car park but has continued well into the adjacent green space, a cattle habitat and recreation area that also hosts the annual poon choi banquet.
The reclamation intrudes onto government land but the developers have ignored Lands Department warnings to halt work.
As with the rapidly-disappearing Pui O wetland, the entire zone between South Lantau Road and the beachfront is designated Coastal Protection Area (CPA) – but no planning or environmental laws exist to provide any actual protection.
Local conservation group Save Lantau Alliance wrote to the Sustainable Lantau Office and other departments about the unauthorised development, HK01 reported.
The Planning Department confirmed that the site is zoned CPA, which means any land filling or development work requires permission from the Town Planning Board (TPB). It said no development application for a car park or landfill had been received.
But planning agencies exercise their powers through the development approval process, which has never covered Tong Fuk or other villages on South Lantau Road, so they have no power to influence or stop any development.
As the Planning Dept said: “There is no regulatory authority there.”
The private-held portion of land belongs to a Mui Wo-registered company called Yuky Co. Ltd (耀崎有限公司), according to HK01.
A 1980s court case involving the late Heung Yee Kuk strongman Lau Wongfat found that the government cannot enforce planning laws on privately-held agricultural land.
Pui O wetlands ‘close to unviable’ as govt fails to act
Lantau activists have slammed government officials over their failure to stop the continued destruction of the Pui O wetlands.
Ham Tin resident Martin Lerigo, who has led a campaign to save the vanishing wetlands for five years, has warned that they are “close to unviable.”
In a letter to the Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO), he said “vandalism continues unabated with seemingly little interest” from government officials.
Since officials last visited four months ago “there has been considerable further damage to the Pui O wetlands including multiple areas of fencing off, including across streams and mangroves,” he wrote.
“The wetlands are now close to being unviable as a home to the unique water buffaloes of Hong Kong, much loved by local people and visitors alike.”
The SLO was formed in 2017 as part of the government’s push to develop Lantau. Despite its name, it is a unit of the CEDD, staffed mostly by civil engineers.
It is responsible for carrying out the government’s conservation policies as well as development, but has few staff with environmental expertise.
Another resident, Tom Yam of Mui Wo, says the SLO’s conservation efforts have been “an abject failure, with more pristine wetland damaged and no damaged land recovered.”
The agency has set “no specific results or deliverables,” and has “no management plan that holds individuals and organisation accountable,” he said.
“It makes a mockery of your claim to ‘conserve the south and develop the north’ in Lantau. We only see development in the north and degradation in the south.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed on multiple occasions to protect the Pui O wetlands, the city’s last major remaining buffalo habitat, but has yet to enact any new policies.
She has promised but not delivered a HK$1 billion Lantau Conservation Fund.
Lerigo asked if the office had taken any action to halt CLP’s connection of electricity supply to illegal structures. “This is a key driver of the environmental vandalism.”
He pointed out that a removal notice had been issued on an illegally-developed site seen by SLO officials on their most recent visit , yet “fencing is still there and has been expanded.”
Lerigo also asked:
- If the SLO had taken any action to increase the level of conservation expertise. “Only four out of the SLO’s 111 staff have any professional expertise in conservation matters.”
- If any progress had been made in setting up the Lantau Conservation Fund
- The status of its proposal to use resumption or a managed scheme as a solution
Election ’19: Fung Siu Yin, reform candidate
Fung Siu Yin is the challenger in Sunday’s district council poll and a part of a new face in local politics.
Standing for the Lantau seat, she is pro-democratic, green and a member of a new group called Islands Connect, which is ensuring that for the first time democrats contest seats in all four islands in the district.
Fung, 33, has lived in Tung Chung for 20 years. She has worked as a Legco research assistant for the past eight years, and is currently on Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s staff.
She opposes Lantau Tomorrow Vision, which she says has had scant scrutiny from the council. If elected she would call public hearings across Lantau to debate the project.
She has also done a good deal of work on public transport issues, finding that South Lantau residents object to the Sunday fare hikes and want to see more frequent services of both bus and ferry.
Having spent her early career working on senior and social welfare issues, she also advocates expanding community centres and medical services for the elderly and wants to set aside land for a retiree-run community farm.
The vacant Mui Wo high school, the wetlands and the Mui Wo improvement works are also high on her agenda.
Here is a condensed version of Lantau News’ interview with Siu Yin.
Why are you running for District Council?
I have lived in Tung Chung for about 20 years. In 2014 I knew we had big developments coming into Lantau. From that we tried to have some education and oral history documentation to tell people what would happen.
In 2018, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision was announced. In those four years, I had learnt more about Lantau people, and we know more about their needs. There were many problems with elderly citizens, and some education needs.
In our group, Save Lantau Alliance, we discussed the elections and we wanted to have a role, to have more debate in the community to talk about what we want for Lantau’s future. That’s why we are running for election this year.
How do you see the role of the district council?
They get a lot of information from the government, and the government often consults with them on education, bus services, medical services, etc.
The councillors also can vote for the chief executive and one of them can be elected to Legco. They can meet with different government departments, they can share their ideas. They have many ways to work with the government.
You talk about reforming the district council. What would you do?
The Islands District Council has 18 members, including eight ex officio. So many people don’t have a voice. So we want to open a platform. We want the residents in the Lantau community, who care about the community, they can voice out.
For example, the bus company wanted to increase bus fares. They just informed the district council but most Lantau people didn’t know. In May we did a street survey. We found more than 68% of people didn’t know the bus company was applying to increase the fare.
We will have social media channels, like Facebook or WhatsApp. Give people many channels to share their opinions. We think if the district councils are working, then there will be less anger in the community.
Can district councils do anything to address the current political crisis?
We can open many forums to discuss what people are ask for. Is it reasonable or not reasonable, what is the meaning of the five demands, and so on. Because now you are blue, I am yellow, we are totally divided into two colours and we don’t want to talk to each other. It’s not a healthy relationship.
Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a huge project and the government seems determined to build it. What can you do in the district council?
The district council talked about Lantau Tomorrow Vision just once, for one or two hours, and then a show of hands.
If we can get to District Council, we will have an agenda item to discuss Lantau Tomorrow Vision. We want to have a public hearing. It’s not local to Central, so we will have public hearings in Lantau – in Mui Wo, Tai O, and so on, and we can hear people’s opinions.
How to help Lantau’s senior population?
Lantau has a population of about 24,000, of which about 7,000-8,000 are over 50. But we have just one elderly home in Mui Wo. Two years ago, the home in Tai O closed.
The medical system is very important for them. We have just two clinics, with a limited service level, in Mui Wo and Tai O. It’s not enough. Also in Mui Wo the population has risen to more than 6,000. That’s why we ask the clinic employ two doctors, now just one.
We ask for community support service for the elderly. Some of them need help in cooking and cleaning, so they can live in their homes. We would like to set up community care services where they go to people’s homes, help cook and clean.
We also need community centres for the elderly, where they can read newspapers, sing together, have some health checks.
Right now we have a small centre in Mui Wo. In Tai O – nothing. In South Lantau – zero. NGOs provide services from Tung Chung, but that’s not reasonable. So that is why we hope to have centres in South Lantau and Tai O.
Also, elderly people feel bored. They say they would like to have a community garden. They know how to farm. They can raise chickens; chickens can eat waste food that humans won’t eat.
They can provide value in return – food, recycling, education for young people as well. So they become teachers. It’s more positive, right?
What is the status of the Mui Wo school?
The school [the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School] has been closed for 12 years. We want to re-use the school for the elderly services, medical service and also education services – for kindergarten, primary school – so it is not wasted.
In the last few months we have had communication with the residents. Many of the Mui Wo kids are under six years old. They are going to Tai O, Tung Chung or Tsuen Wan for kindergarten. We see here is a need in the community. We have an empty school – it’s a perfect match.
You have done some work on public transport issues. What have you found?
Two months ago we did a survey and held a forum.
For buses, the most important thing people are concerned about is service frequency. People also worry about the safety of the double decker buses. On the upper deck most of them don’t have seat belts. There’s no room for luggage upstairs, either, so they have to put their suitcases in the aisle. It’s dangerous.
For both bus and ferry, people want to cancel the extra charge for public holidays and Sundays. They think it’s not reasonable.
The government gives subsidies to ferry companies. We want to improve transparency and open up the financials of the ferry companies so we know how they are spending the subsidies.
People also care about frequency. We need more ferries at peak times. The bus and ferry companies and residents don’t have the chance to communicate. District council members can create a platform for us to talk – we can hold a meeting once every two months.
The government has made promises over the Pui O wetlands but has done nothing. How can you help protect the wetlands?
We have a law to protect the South Lantau wetlands and also to protect the buffalo. Two years ago the government agreed to update the law, but this year the Chief Executive Policy Address again failed to mention it.
I think district council members can raise this issue again.
In South Lantau and Mui Wo, we have different parties. One will love and care about the environment. They know the ecosystem is very important for the community. The second – they want more development. They have the intention to destroy the wetlands. They also have the intention to move the buffalo and cows.
The first party includes many of the residents. They love the buffalos and love the wetland, but they are scared to speak out. If district council members can collect people’s ideas about the wetlands and how to deal with problems of the buffalo and try to find a way to form a community consensus.
Also we have connections with the FEHD and the EPD, some of them are friends. We ask them what are the problems they face. Resources? Manpower? Rural party problems? We want to know what the problems are and try to find a way to protect the wetland and the buffalos.
I think education is very important. We have some residents who know a great deal about the cattle and buffalo and are willing to share. If more people know how to communicate with the animals and understand their behaviour, that will help.
What is the progress of the Mui Wo facelift?
They call it the Mui Wo improvement works. The first question is: improvements for whom? For tourists or residents?
When we saw the plan from 2017, we didn’t see improvement for residents. They moved the bicycle parking far away, and then moved the restaurants into the ferry pier building.
We collected some opinions. People really strongly disagree with moving the bike parking. It’s not convenient for them. But now the problem is not enough space. That’s why we have bicycles everywhere. So people suggest that we should extend the bike parking because more people are moving here.
So we asked the CEDD for more information. They told us the plan was made in 2017, but can change and they are considering changes. But they don’t think it will happen immediately – maybe it might take another five or ten years to finalise this stage.
For the residents we think that is good, so we have more time to discuss what we need. Hopefully more time to debate and more time for them to change their plan so it works for residents, not just tourists.
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.
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.”
Lam won’t condemn wetland dumping or amend law to stop it
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to condemn wetland dumping and has ruled out any changes to the law to preserve Lantau and other threatened areas.
Lam admitted in Legco yesterday that there were “loopholes in the law” but said that some “behaviour that looks like it is harming the ecology may not in fact be illegal.”
Lam’s comments, her first on the issue since protestors dumped waste on her doorstep on Sunday, were in response to a question from legislator Eddie Chu, who brandished a toilet seat found in a Pui O landfill.
Chu asked the CE if she would condemn those who “have exploited legal loopholes” to damage Coastal Protection Area land on South Lantau.
He also asked if she would amend the law to ensure its preservation.
Lam declined to answer, but acknowledged there was “room for improvement in monitoring and enforcement.”
She called for stronger public education “to protect our beautiful coastline and other rural areas.”
Lam’s responses fail to distinguish between fly-tipping, which is illegal, and landfilling, which has become government-authorised waste dumping in rural areas.
They also fly in the face of her own policy, which is to conserve South Lantau generally and Pui O wetland specifically.
In her October policy address Lam said Lantau would be conserved by the new Sustainable Lantau Office, based on the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint issued last June.
“Measures for conservation of Pui O wetland are being explored,” it states.
Yet when it comes to ensuring these “treasured” ecosystems can be preserved, Lam not only is unable to offer any “measures” – she cannot find fault with the steady destruction taking place.
It is clear the CE has no intention of taking on powerful rural interests to stop wetlands from disappearing under a mountain of construction waste.
Protestors dump Lantau waste at Govt House, warn of further action
Demonstrators dumped construction waste outside Carrie Lam’s residence today to protest landfilling and wetland destruction, with Legco member Eddie Chu warning of further protests “if the government ignores us.”
The rally of about 30 people marched from Central ferry pier, bringing with them two trolleys filled with waste from South Lantau landfill sites.
They poured the trash onto the ground at the Government House gate to remind Lam that conserving South Lantau and protecting the wetlands are her own policies.
A police sergeant accepted a petition on behalf of Lam.
A police contingent almost as large as the protest itself watched over the event.
Eddie Chu told the demonstrators:
“We will come back if the government does not take the right actions to deal with this dumping issue.
“This is only the first action. There will be actions following if the government ignores us.
“We will not allow this to happen in South Lantau. We are not going to allow it to happen anywhere in rural Hong Kong.”
Paul Zimmerman, head of Designing Hong Kong and a candidate for the architectural constitutency at the forthcoming by-election, said the government needed to introduce new legislation to protect rural Hong Kong.
“If you want development in Hong Kong you have to give confidence to people that conservation truly is conservation,” he said.
He said landfilling of the kind carried out in rural Hong Kong was “destruction on purpose, to create development value,” to ensure land was already destroyed so it could be rezoned.
But the symbolic waste dumping may come at a cost to the protestors. Organiser Eddie Tse, head of the Save Lantau Allianced said police had warned him he could be fined for dumping the waste.
Rejected: TPB turns down application from Pui O ‘brick wall’ site
The Town Planning Board has rejected an application from Pui O’s controversial ‘brick wall’ wetland plot to convert the site into agricultural use.
The site owner, Ms Au-Yeung Kam Ping, had asked to convert the 411 sq metre site into a farmland plot covered with landfill 1.2m high.
But in a ruling Friday the TPB said Au-Yeung failed to provide sufficient information about the material used for landfill, could not justify the need for the 1.2m high landfill and was unable to demonstrate “no adverse impact on surrounding areas” (see full decision below).
The board said approval “would set an undesirable precedent” for similar applications within the Coastal Protection Area.
While this is a victory for local residents and environmental activists who have campaigned against the destruction of this wetland site, the TPB decision relates only to the application to turn the land-use into farmland. The board does not rule on environmental harm or on the legality of the landfill.
The owner, Au-Yeung, has courted local notoriety by building a brick wall around the site.
Additionally, Environmental Protection Department surveillance cameras caught trucks dumping landfill on the plot before the department had given permission to fill.
It is not clear who was responsible for the dumping, but activists are furious that the EPD still gave the go-ahead for the landfilling despite knowing that fly-tipping – a criminal offence – had taken place.
And despite the video evidence in its possession the EPD has been unwilling to use its powers to pursue and arrest the fly-tippers or to order a stop to the landfilling.
A Judicial Review decision on the EPD’s handling of these wetland landfill cases is pending, based on a similar case on a nearby Pui O site three years ago.
EPD again unwilling to act as another wetland site is landfilled
A Shui Hau site appears to have become the latest slice of South Lantau wetland to have been illegally landfilled.
Save Lantau Alliance convenor Eddie Tse discovered the landfilled site, about two-thirds between the village and the shore, a week ago.
The Coastal Protection Area (CPA) site is not approved for any development and has received no ‘acknowledgement’ for landfilling from the EPD.
In reply to inquiries, the Planning Department said that the TPB had not received any planning application for the site.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said that it received two complaints over landfilling there earlier this month, Commercial Radio reported.
EPD officials have reportedly inspected the location and told Commercial Radio that if there is evidence of a breach of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO), “the department will certainly take enforcement action.”
It has used the same language in the most recent Pui O case, which likewise appears to be a blatant breach of the WDO, a law that allows for waste dumping only with EPD approval.
Despite strong evidence, including video footage of dumping taking place prior to EPD ‘acknowledgement,’ the department has taken no action.
Its passivity flies in the face of the government’s own policies and aspirations. The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint has identified north Lantau as a focus of development and South Lantau for conservation.
Release of the latest South Lantau Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) last week also highlights the government’s inability to conform with its own policies.
The plan has allocated 162 ha in South Lantau for CPA land, which it says it is intended to
“conserve, protect and retain the natural coastlines and the sensitive coastal natural environment, 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. A long strip of land between the coastline and South Lantau Road stretching from Pui O to Shui Hau and the sandy shore of the gazetted bathing beaches at Pui O, Cheung Sha and Tong Fuk are zoned CPA.”
Despite the name, the CPA carries no enforcement mechanism.
In this latest case the government has shown once again it is unwilling to use the enforcement tools that it has to hand.
Pui O wetland: EPD still can’t work out if law was broken
Nearly two months after recording unauthorised dumping on a wetland site, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) says it is still not certain if any law has been broken.
In a letter to local residents today, an EPD staff said officials were investigating the case “and would take enforcement action if there is sufficient evidence of violation of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO).”
Yet at a meeting at the Pui O site on December 29, EPD officials advised that the CCTV had caught unauthorised dumping on the site between November 20 and 23.
Under the WDO, owners of Coastal Protection Area sites like this one must apply for an ‘acknowlegement’ from the EPD if they wish to carry out landfilling.
Local activists point out that dumping before receiving ‘acknowledgement’ from the EPD is a clear breach of the law.
They also say the EPD should have stayed the application pending the outcome of a judicial review into the department’s handling of dumping and landfilling, also at a Pui O site.
Additionally, the landowner has applied to the Town Planning Board to change the use to ‘agricultural’, yet has since built a brick wall around the site.
Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong, said the problem is that EPD is “limiting itself to the WDO rather than protecting land reserved for conservation purposes.”
The landfilling, and the inability of the EPD to stop it, flies in the face of the government’s own policy.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam referred to the importance of the Pui O wetland in her September policy address. The wetland, an important buffalo habitat, is also designated for protection under the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint.
The Sustainable Lantau Office met with other departments, including the EPD, the Planning Department and the police, last week work up a plan to stop trucks dumping construction waste on Pui O.
But that seems too little too late, and addresses only one of many reasons for Pui O’s disappearing wetland.
The years of lax enforcement by the EPD means landowners see no impediment to turning their wetland sites into other more profitable uses. Precedent is on their side.
The only option is a long-term solution. A land-swap, given the large number of owners, would take years, decades even.
The only solution is for the government to buy the wetland plots.
Aquisition of the wetland to protect the habitat, the buffalo and the local tourist economy would cost millions, but it is just a snip compared to the tens of billions taxpayers have laid out for cost overruns on dubious public works.
It would also demonstrate – to itself and the public – that the government believes in its own policies.
Landowner flouts law with brick wall around wetland site
The owner of a Pui O wetland site already in breach of several environmental laws has begun building a brick wall around the plot.
Construction of the wall at the site, next to the Pui O beach car park, began on Tuesday.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) says its surveillance camera captured fly-tipping – a criminal offence – on the site between November 20 and 23 on the site. The owner applied to the Town Planning Board to change the land use to agriculture on November 27.
The Pui O wetland is zoned Coastal Protection Area under local planning rules, but this carries no enforcement or penalty.
Under the Waste Disposal Ordinance, landowners are allowed to dump landfill on their site if they receive ‘acknowledgement’ from the EPD – but the fly-tipping took place before the ‘acknowledgement.’ Additionally, all landfill dumping is banned from CPA sites.
EPD officials, who visited the site along with Planning Department and Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) officials last Friday, have ordered the owner to stop landfilling, but have taken no action to enforce their order.
The wall also appears to be in breach of rules that prohibit fixed structures on wetland.
Local residents have filed a complaint to the Ombudsman over the EPD’s unwillingness to use its powers to stop destruction of the site. The complaint states:
EPD have taken no steps to physically stop the landowner by way of injunction or similar legal instrument or by arrest, despite having evidence of a criminal offence. This will result in the destruction of a pristine wetland habitat, the protection of which clearly falls within the jurisdiction of the EPD.
The landfill dumping and wall construction also fly in the face of the government’s own policy.
The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, issued in June, set down the conservation of the Pui O wetland as one of its environmental priorities.
The report acknowledges the wetland as a valuable ecological and cultural site as well as a crucial buffalo habitat.