Tagged: EPD

Ombudsman castigates EPD over passive response to fly-tipping

The Ombudsman has castigated the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for being too slow and reactive in dealing with fly-tipping.

It has called on the department to increase inspections and take “stronger actions” against fly-tipping in rural Hong Kong.

The Ombudsman’s report on fly-tipping, issued today, did not refer specifically to Pui O, where EPD has been passive in the face of multiple incidents of fly-tipping and landfilling.

But its findings validate many of the concerns of frustrated local residents and activists.

Some filed a complaint to the Ombudsman last month after the EPD failed to take action even though it had video evidence of landfilling without permission.

The report notes that although the Environment Bureau had instructed agencies to conduct regular inspections of fly-tipping blackspots, the EPD had carried out just two in 2017.

Though being one of the major enforcement authorities, EPD has yet to work out an action plan for such proactive inspections. EPD usually acts only on reports from the public, referrals from other departments or media reports.

The Ombudsman also noted that over a 22-month period the EPD had launched just 18 prosecutions – less than one a month.

Over 90% of EPD inspections take place during office hours, drawing complaints from members of the public because it meant fly-tippers could easily evade inspections.

EPD should have conducted more comprehensive inspections so that there would be no loopholes for offenders to evade its enforcement action.

The Ombudsman also admonished the department for the lack of progress in implementing GPS, “despite years of study.”

A trial of mandatory use of GPS in construction vehicles began in 2015 but the system still has not put it into practice.

As GPS is already a well-developed and popular technology, and the government has already spent years studying [it], … we consider that EPD, as the department enforcing [the Waste Disposal Ordinance] should make more efforts to push forward with the aforesaid legislative amendments.

It called on the EPD to expedite the introduction of the system.

The Ombudsman said EPD officials should step up inspections and enforcements outside office hours and draw up “proactive inspection plans for stronger actions against fly-tipping activities.”

The report also criticised the Planning Department for taking too long to enforce ‘Reinstatement Notices’, requiring landowners to return sites to their previous state, and said its prosecutions had little deterrent effectd.

Between 2006 and 2017, landowners had complied with the RNs in just 8% of cases.

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.

Ombudsman called on to probe ‘criminal’ wetland dumping

Local activists have filed a complaint with the Ombudsman over the failure of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to prevent illegal dumping on the Pui O wetland.

A letter to the Ombudsman says the EPD had given the go-ahead for landfill on a site, despite knowing that fly-tipping, a criminal offence, had already taken place.

It says the landowner has ignored the EPD’s demands to cease, yet the department has taken no steps to prevent further destruction or to arrest the landowner, despite “evidence of a criminal offence.”

The Ombudsman complaint follows a visit to the wetland by EPD, CEDD, AFCD and Planning Department on Friday in which they were unable to explain the government’s unwillingness to use its powers to prevent landfilling “on a pristine piece of wetland habitat.”

Under questioning by local residents at the site – farcically adorned with a kitchen sink – an EPD official admitted that if he saw a truck dumping construction waste he would take no action.

The kitchen sink

Hours after the meeting, residents called police after sighting further landfilling and clearance on the site.

The owner has applied for Town Planning Board approval to have the 400 sq metre plot rezoned as agricultural land.

The plot is designated Coastal Protection Area which, despite the name, offers no protection.

In fact under Hong Kong Waste Disposal Ordinance, dumping can take if the EPD “acknowledges” it, although the Coastal Protection Area regulations specifically rule out landfilling.

In the case of this site, the dumping began before the acknowledgement was granted, which is illegal.

Additionally, the EPD’s practice in handing out acknowledgements, which have caused the degradation of other parts of the Pui O wetland, is being tested in a judicial review.

The case has been heard but the judge has not yet handed down a decision.

The Ombudsman complaint argues that the EPD erred in giving the acknowledgement when a judicial review decision is pending.

Ham Tin resident Martin Lerigo (right) with EPD and Planning Department officials

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, issued in June, acknowledged the Pui O wetland as a conservation priority, specifically referencing “illegal dumping activities of construction waste” in the village.

It says an inter-departmental working group had been formed to tackle fly-tipping and would “take a pro-active role to strengthen measures against illegal dumping of construction waste.”

The Living Islands Movement has written to Carrie Lam, arguing that the EPD’s role in approving landfill on a wetland “directly contradicts your stated policy intent. ”

It adds:

Another slice of Pui O wetland under threat

Yet more of the Pui O wetlands is under threat of disappearing.

A landowner is seeking to turn more than 400 sq metres of wetland into agricultural land.

Already an area of approximately 150 sq metres has been covered with landfill.

Although the wetland is officially designated Coastal Protection Area (CPA), that offers no protection.

Under the city’s baffling planning and environmental laws, it can only be protected if it is zoned for development.

Just as inexplicably, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) can give the go-ahead for landfill. A notice on the Pui O site indicates it has EPD “acknowledgement.”

The owner also has applied to the Town Planning Board (TPB) for permission to change the land use to agricultural.

Michael Lau, director of wetland conservation at WWF-HK, says he has reported it to the EPD “as yet another example of illegal landfilling about which they appear completely unable to do anything.”

Local environmentalists point out that the EPD notice appears to have been erected after landfilling began.

They also express surprise that the EPD has taken the step to approve the landfill while a judicial review (JR) is underway questioning that power and the way it is exercised.

The JR, filed two years ago, has been completed but the judge has yet to deliver a decision.

Additionally, if this part of a conversion to agricultural land, the landowner appears to be in breach of zoning regulations by having begun before the application is approved.

It is the latest of a series of assaults on the Pui O wetland, which is not organic wetland but is abandoned farmland that has been regenerated by the presence of water buffalo.

The buffalo now find their habitat is disappearing, as landowners dumped waste, carried out landfill, converted to farm land or fenced-off wetland areas.

It is made more complex because most of the land is held by private landowners.

There is some support from rural leaders for a land-swap, in which the government would exchange equivalent land for the wetland plots.

But the first such land swap was completed in June in Sha Lo Tung, a dragonfly breeding ground and an area described of “high ecological importance.” Yet that involved a single landowner and still took a dozen years to complete.

In her September policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam flagged up “conservation initiatives” in Pui O and other Lantau villages, but gave no specifics.

Those wishing to object to the landfill and conversion of wetland can object to the TPB or write to the Lantau officer plyau@epd.gov.hk  or Robin Lee, head of the Sustainable Lantau Office robinkblee@cedd.gov.hk.