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January 27th, 2012:

The waste incinerator would be built at Saddlebow in King’s Lynn

27 January 2012 Last updated at 17:20 GMT

King’s Lynn incinerator: Council seeks judicial review

Description: Energy from waste incinerator

Preparations for a waste incinerator in King’s Lynn could be halted after a council voted to challenge the way it is being financed.

Councillors at the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk voted on Thursday to seek a judicial review of government funding worth £91m.

Proposed legal action by residents to stop the plant being built failed at the High Court in December.

Norfolk County Council approved its construction in March 2011.

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk council leader Nicholas Daubney said: “I believe we’re perfectly justified in challenging this decision.

“The many, many messages I’m getting from the public want us to do so – even demand we do so.”

The council said it believed the financial arrangements in place between Norfolk County Council and the preferred contractors had impeded debate during the planning process.

PFI credits awarded

It said it would repeat a request to communities secretary Eric Pickles to “call-in” the matter for determination.

A bid by campaigners in December for a judicial review into the way Norfolk County Council awarded the incinerator contract to Cory Wheelabrator failed.

Last week Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman awarded £91m of private finance (PFI) credits towards the energy-from-waste plant at Saddlebow.

The Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Norwich City Council, some local MPs and campaign groups have openly condemned the building of the incinerator.

Developer Cory Wheelabrator has been requested to clarify concerns over noise, dust, smell, air pollution and public health.

A county council spokeswoman said the proposal to seek a judicial review had not halted the project and a consultation process was due to finish on 20 February.

We’re breathing ‘dangerous’ air

South China Morning Post – Laisee

Just in case you didn’t notice the air yesterday – it was bad. According to the government’s air pollution index, the pollution level was “high” – that is, it was at the midpoint of the index. It tells us: “Very few people, if any, may notice immediate health effects. Long-term effects may, however, be observed if exposed at such [a] level persistently for months or years.”

However, according to the Hedley Environmental Index, which follows World Health Organisation guidelines, the air quality can be classified as “very dangerous”.

Jim Middleton, chairman of green group Clear the Air, observed that yesterday’s bad pollution occurred even though factories and construction sites in the Pearl River Delta were closed and despite a decline in Hong Kong traffic while many people were on holiday. “But the ocean-going vessels and ferries, along with the local power stations and buses, were running.”

Middleton remarked: “Our secretary for the environment has done nothing for our air quality other than massive prevarication, yet he earned a Golden Bauhinia from a chief executive intent on building white-elephant infrastructure [ahead of] his duty [to] care for the health of the public.”

Clear the Air Says

Hazy logic

South China Morning Post

Christine Loh says officials misunderstand the true costs of polluted air by taking the route of ‘develop first, clean up later’

The government was caught napping with regard to Hong Kong’s air quality and then caught fudging the issue. That’s not a pretty picture; our air quality remains a serious daily threat to public health. It’s not that officials don’t want to improve air quality – of course they do – but they still can’t figure out how they can build highways, bridges, runways and incinerators without causing more air pollution. Their priority is to build infrastructure; they believe this is what matters more – you can always clean up later. They don’t see that they can do both.

Earlier this month, Beijing released tighter air quality objectives for the mainland. Hong Kong officials didn’t seem to know this was going to happen. It put pressure on them to come to a decision on Hong Kong’s own objectives after two years of dithering.

They had already been caught out once before: last May, the Ombudsman accepted a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government was taking far too long to make a decision on revising Hong Kong’s objectives.

Now, officials are hedging. The government has announced it will begin work on an amendment to the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, to be tabled for discussion in the next legislative year – when the current government will, in fact, have stepped down. The delay was said to be necessary because of the time it takes “for completing the legislative process and other necessary preparatory work”.

The law doesn’t actually require a legislative amendment. The environment minister can amend the air quality objectives after consultation with the Advisory Council on the Environment. Since the council meets monthly, he could get this done well before the current administration steps down.

But the government is not going to do that. It wants to make sure there’s a “transitional period” of 36 months before the new air quality objectives take effect. This should give officials enough time to get approval for certain projects, such as a third runway, before the more stringent standards apply.

It would be seen as a disaster for the government if a third runway were not built, whereas putting off the implementation of revised air quality objectives is just a delay. To Hong Kong’s officials, this is being practical. The fact that the new objectives are necessary when considering projects is not acknowledged. The third runway and other new projects will indeed lead to additional air pollution.

Thus, the early implementation of the new objectives is impractical from the government’s perspective. This logic is, of course, diametrically opposite to the aim of having air quality objectives in the first place. Our officials’ objective has shifted from health protection to infrastructure protection.

It is this attitude that got them into trouble in the first place. They have left the cleaning up so late that catching up will require many urgent measures, such as banning old polluting vehicles, pedestrianising urban areas, regulating ships’ emissions, switching energy sources, and more. If the next administration retains the same mindset, it too will keep on fudging rather than pushing for aggressive pollution reduction.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think tank Civic

Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index is shamefully misleading

South China Morning Post – 27 Jan 2012

In the executive summary of his paper Air Pollution and Public Health, written in 2009, University of Hong Kong Professor Anthony Hedley writes: “There is incontrovertible evidence that pollution levels currently experienced throughout the year in Hong Kong are causing an epidemic of health problems arising from damage to lungs, heart and blood vessels. Hong Kong’s pollution is a significant cause of premature death from cardiopulmonary disorders.

“Present levels of pollution cause injury to the immature developing lungs of children and adolescents. This damage will lead to lifelong health problems in many and a reduction in life expectancy.”

Professor Wong Tze Wai, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, concluded an earlier paper, Health Impact of Roadside Air Pollution, by observing that: “Roadside air pollution is a cause for concern; levels of air pollutants at roadside are very high; public health is severely affected; needs urgent action to reduce roadside levels…”

Given these dire warnings by acknowledged public health experts, it is curious that roadside pollution does not excite the same sort of fears in the mind of the public as Sars and bird flu, even though it is responsible for far more deaths.

The World Health Organisation says there have been 341 deaths worldwide from bird flu since 2003 and a total of 913 deaths from Sars.

According to the Hedley Environmental Index, which measures the impact of air pollution on public health in Hong Kong, the average annual number of avoidable deaths attributable to air pollution over the past five years is 3,200. That is a total of 16,000 avoidable deaths in Hong Kong over the past five years alone. These figures are arrived at by a peer-reviewed methodology and have not been challenged by the government or the medical profession.

One of the reasons for the apparent lack of concern is that those struck down are not pronounced dead as a result of contracting a disease with a name like bird flu. It is a “silent injury”. People die from toxic attack on their respiratory and other functions.

Another reason for the apparent lack of understanding by the public of the risks posed by air pollution is the government’s Air Pollution Index. This takes the readings from the government’s air monitoring stations and reduces them to one number on a scale of 0 to 500 and divides the scale into five broad levels ranging from low to severe.

The system is explained at: The problem is that these measurements are based on Hong Kong’s woefully outdated air quality objectives set in 1987 and hugely understate the health impacts. (See how API relates to air quality objectives (AQOs) at

Try comparing the government’s API and the Hedley index ( We did this several days last week when the API index indicated low and “safe to go out”, while the Hedley index, using the same data but calibrated to the World Health Organisation Guidelines, measured “very poor”.

In other words, the API is completely misleading. Or as Professor Hedley called it on RTHK’sBackchat programme, “a complete piece of fiction”. He added: “It’s the government’s responsibility to translate this problem into health risks and to inform people what they are facing and what their children will face in future years – even if they clean up tomorrow.”

So perhaps it is time for Secretary of the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah (Golden Bauhinia) to stop this shameful practice and either publish figures that indicate the true health impacts or to stop publishing this information, which deliberately misleads the public.