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
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.”
The Hong Kong government will issue tenders for the construction of fibre links to 45 Lantau villages – part of a new scheme to provide faster rural internet across Hong Kong.
Network operators will have to commit to building fibre connections to villages that will enable download speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
Within each village, residents will connect to the fibre backbone via the existing copper network using DSL technology. Currently PCCW’s combined fibre/DSL service offers downlinks of up 100Mbps.
The scheme to subsidise internet service was foreshadowed in Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s policy address last October.
It is a major departure from the government’s longstanding policy of leaving the telecom industry solely to the commercial operators.
The city is near the top of the world broadband rankings, but 170,000 people have a home or small business internet with download speed of less than 10Mbps.
The plan to bridge the city’s digital divide will not happen quickly, however.
Telecom regulator Ofca says services won’t start rolling out until 2021 at the earliest.
It will start discussions on funding with the Legco IT and Broadcasting Panel next month, the regulator said in a paper to the Islands District Council.
But it does not say how much it will seek for the subsidised rollout.
Ofca says 67 villages in the Islands District qualify for the programme.
Under the tender structure, they will be combined into six different project areas. Operators will be asked to bid on the six projects.
They will be assessed on on the speed of rollout, system design, pricing and the funding required.
According to Ofca, fibre backbones reach all of South Lantau’s major villages except Tai O
But 32 villages on South Lantau and 13 in the Tung Chung area have no fibre connections and will qualify for the scheme. They are:–
MUI WO: Man Kok Tsui, Ngau Kwu Long, Pak Mong, Tai Ho, Wang Tong, Tung Wan Tau
SOUTH LANTAU/PUI O: Mong Tung Wan, San Shek Wan, Shap Long, Tai Long Wan
TAI O: Fan Lau, Kit Hing Back St, Kit Hing St, Lower Keung Shan, Upper Keung Shan, Luk Wu, Leung Uk,Nam Tong Sun Tsuen, Ngong Ping, San Tau, Sha Lo Wan, Sham Shek, Shek Tsai Po (East & West), Tai Long Wan, Tai O Outskirts, Tai O, Yi O
TUNG CHUNG: Chek Lap Kok New Village, Lam Che, Nim Yuen, Ma Wan New Village, Ma Wan Chung, Mok Ka, Ngau Au Village, Pa Mei, Shek Lau Po, Sheung Ling Pei, Tai Po, Tei Tung Tsai, Wong Nai Uk
A Pui O dog-owner responsible for multiple attacks, including two fatalities, says it’s unfair to blame her.
“It is impossible to avoid accidents,” said Ms Choi in an interview with Apple Daily. She said the number of incidents was small.
“It is unfair of other dog owners to put the blame all on a single person,” she said. “I am also a victim.”
Choi contacted the Apple Daily after it published an article on Saturday describing the repeated attacks by her pets on other dogs.
Two dogs have died and at least half a dozen others have been injured in attacks that go back at least six years. Choi’s dogs also frequently chase and attack local buffalo herds.
Choi, who describes herself as a dog lover, she says she has raised 17 dogs in ten years living in Pui O.
Okka Scherer, who runs a dog rescue home at Pui O, says her dog Siu San (photo above) died after being attacked by three dogs in her front garden in February – one of many attacks, including one in which her helper was bitten on the leg.
She incurred veterinary costs of HK$20,000 as a result of an attack on her dog Rayban last October.
After Choi paid just the first HK$8000, Scherer took her the Small Claims Tribunal and won, but Choi has still not settled the full amount.
The police and the AFCD have declined to take action against Choi. AFCD has ordered Choi to muzzle her dogs, but Scherer says she has never seen her dogs wearing a muzzle.
Another owner whose dog was attacked is Cecilie Gamst-Berg, whose pet was badly injured in 2015.
Gamst-Berg said after the attack Choi was “ordered to muzzle the dogs but never did. They never paid my vet bill (HK$2,000) and never said sorry.”
She said she had reported Choi and her dogs to the AFCD two years earlier – yet after the second attack the department claimed not to have had any previous complaints.
Apple Daily story said Choi is a well-known local antique collector with a property portfolio worth than HK$50 million.
The paper says Choi had declined to respond when initially contacted, but approached the journalist after publication of the two articles on Saturday.
It’s now a tradition that the Pui O campsite will spill illegally onto the beach during major holidays.
On Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, half a dozen tents were pitched on the beach at the far end of the campsite.
Illegal camping at Pui O and Cheung Chau beaches became a media issue during Golden Week last May, with the LCSD chief pleading for mainlanders to respect local laws.
The department has said its role is to manage the campsite, not the area outside the campsite.
However, after last year’s incidents hit the headlines, it promised to take action.
But that is not the case, as we see once again.
Illegal camping may not be the biggest problem on South Lantau, but in a district where powerful interests routinely flout the law it has become a symbolic one.
The Pui O camping ground, next to the wide sandy beach, has long been a popular retreat for local people.
Since the opening up of Hong Kong to mainland tourists it has become a magnet for mainland visitors and travel companies wanting to take advantage of its free accommodation.
A minor riot broke out during Golden Week in 2012 after a large number of visitors turned up at the site when it was already full.
Since then the LCSD has introduced a mandatory booking system for major holiday periods.
But still Pui O retains its appeal as a means to a cheap holiday in Hong Kong.
Some mainland travel groups are running tours promising ‘5-star camping’ at Pui O, with local media recounting tales of tourists lugging heavy suitcases full of shopping purchases around the campsite.
This weekend, an Apple Daily reporter visited Pui O and found a Shenzhen man, Mr Pan, who brought his family of “four or five” here for the holiday. He said he had saved thousands of yuan in hotel costs by camping.
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.
Five more South Lantau beaches to the government’s priority foreshore cleaning roster.
From now on Cheung Sha, Tong Fuk, Shap Long, Ham Tin and Tai Long Wan are among 29 beaches that will be serviced by Marine Department cleaners.
Pui O, Fan Lau and Tai O on Lantau’s south and western coast, and Sam Pak Wan and Nim Shue Wan near Discovery Bay, were already on the list.
The Environmental Protection Department updated the list of coastal sites based on “factors including cleanliness, the amount of refuse collected, cleaning frequency, geographical and hydrodynamic conditions, public accessibility, ecological value and concerns raised by the public,” a government statement said.
A dozen beaches were dropped list because of “sustained improvements in their cleanliness,” the statement said.
Cleanup operations on the priority beaches have increased 50% since the list was created two years ago, the government says.
It says Hong Kong is now working with 13 cities in the Pearl River catchment to monitor real-time rainfall data to help predict which beaches might be hit with heavy volumes of marine rubbish.
A notification system has been activated seven times.
The Marine Department’s contractor has been operating 80 scavenging vessels to clean up floating refuse in Hong Kong waters since October.
The contractor’s fleet includes six new quick response workboats and two scavenging catamarans equipped with mechanical devices to increase the efficiency of clean-up operation in narrow water channels and to enhance scavenging service in offshore waters. In addition, the number of foreshore cleaning teams has been increased from two to three in order to step up efforts in cleaning up the foreshore areas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ”