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June 14th, 2012:

Trouble ahead over proposal to end small-house policy


Villagers and academics say Carrie Lam’s ideas on indigenous rights and welfare will cause controversy

Joyce Ng
Jun 14, 2012

New Territories villagers and social science academics say the woman tipped to be the next chief secretary will spark huge controversy with her ideas to end the small-house policy and reform the city’s welfare system.

Lau Wong-fat, chairman of rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, gave a guarded response when told of development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s latest remarks on the small-house policy. “This is only her view and only what she told you. I have never heard about that. I don’t want to comment,” Lau said.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a lawyer and chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee, was alarmed. “I am curious to know how the government interprets Article 40 of the Basic Law, which protects our traditional rights and interests,” Ho said.

He argued that male indigenous villagers’ traditional rights and interests include the privilege of building small houses, the right to burial (as opposed to cremation), the right to be free from paying government rent for land they own, and their interests in protecting the fung shui of villages.

“Does she want to limit it, or really cancel it? If she means the small- house policy should be improved, I can understand. If it is not, is it the right thing to do? I don’t understand,” Ho said. Asked if he thought the kuk would launch a judicial challenge, the lawyer said one had to “think twice [before doing] everything”.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, an assistant law professor with the University of Hong Kong, said the government would need to conduct a thorough legal study if it wanted to end the small-house policy.

“Government lawyers must study the historical background, how the small-house policy evolved over the years. Only by a historical study can they deduce and define what exactly the traditional rights are – whether inheriting and selling a small house is part of these rights, for example – and be safe from a possible legal challenge,” Cheung said.

Malcolm Merry, a HKU law professor specialising in land disputes, earlier said the abolition of the small- house policy would be in accordance with the Basic Law, as the modern three-storey village house did not exist until 50 years ago and was not custom.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat agreed the small-house policy should be terminated, but said the minister did not have to set a deadline as late as 2029. The government would have to conduct a public consultation, he added.

Lam already had a blueprint to reform the welfare system when she was director of social welfare, but failed to implement it because she had no power to control other departments, said Nelson Chow Wing-sun, professor of social work and social administration at HKU.

Chow said he suggested to Lam that she should allow only the elderly and the disabled to remain covered by the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, and those who had the ability to work should be excluded.

He also proposed to her that the Labour Department help those excluded from the CSSA to find jobs. For single parents, a category of existing CSSA recipients, the department could help create suitable part-time jobs, so they would still have time to look after their children.”But then she told me that she met opposition and she had no power to control the work of other departments,” Chow said. “The CSSA is only to maintain a basic living standard, but cannot cater to the needs of different people.”

Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a social science academic and Labour Party member, said he was “scared” by Lam’s hints on welfare reform.

“Given her track record of curbing welfare expenditure, it seems to me that what she has in mind is more like a cost containment exercise than widening the safety net,” Cheung said.

He said he agreed with Lam that the CSSA scheme should be abolished, “but only provided that new social insurance systems [be implemented] to protect the unemployed, the sick, and the disabled, and subsidies for the low-income group, as in the US and the UK”.

End small-house policy, says Lam

The woman tipped to be chief secretary says this rural ‘right’ cannot be preserved forever as she discusses her hopes for a ‘big social experiment’ to overhaul welfare

Olga Wong and Joyce Ng
Jun 14, 2012

The candidate favoured to become the next chief secretary is calling for an end to what some see as the infinite demand from rural indigenous villagers for homes under the small-house policy.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews)in which she outlined the challenges the next government must tackle, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also hinted at “a big social experiment” to overhaul the welfare system.

“Not long after my appointment, I talked to the Heung Yee Kuk and asked if they could draw a line,” she said, as she reviewed her term as the development minister since 2007.

“If life is unchanged for 50 years until 2047, as set out under the Basic Law, and only 18-year-old [or older] indigenous male villagers are eligible for a small house, how about ending it in 2029? I have asked them and offered different options. But they just didn’t come back,” she said.

Under her plan, the last generation to enjoy what the villagers regard as their right would be those born in 2029 and who would become 18 in 2047. The small-house policy gives male indigenous villagers in the New Territories the right to build a house close to their ancestral homes. It has drawn criticism because in some cases it is being abused for profit.

Lam said she now sees an opportunity to propose an end to the policy in the next five years. However, she admitted her relationship with some rural representatives had turned sour as a result of stepped-up actions on clearing illegal structures in village houses since April.

“They were agitated about my enforcement [on illegal structures],” she said. “Now that they realise the law has to be enforced, they would probably think about what to do with the remaining village zones that cannot accommodate all their [housing] demands. I do think the next administration should make a start.”

One of the challenges, Lam said, is to convince the public that the government may need to give something to villagers in return when the policy is ended. This could include providing more infrastructure to the villages and speeding up the application process with more efficient use of land.

On welfare, Lam, who was director of social welfare between 2000 and 2003, said she had in mind a “very big social experiment” to tackle poverty and narrow the wealth gap. One idea was to reform the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, calling it “a whole new paradigm shift to deal with poverty”.

“I have always felt that the CSSA is not the best scheme. If it is a good scheme, why are there so many ‘three-nothings’ and ‘four-nothings’ in Hong Kong,” she said, referring to the working poor who do not benefit from government relief measures because they are not welfare recipients, taxpayers or eligible for public housing.

Improvements to the safety net in the past five years included means-tested transport subsidies for workers, and vouchers for kindergarten education and for health checks for the elderly with private doctors.

A tip of her hard hat


After five years at the helm of the city’s development, Carrie Lam says she has done her best. But she’d like to see thorny land policies and a welfare revamp resolved

Olga Wong and Joyce Ng
Jun 14, 2012

Sitting in her office at government headquarters in Admiralty, overlooking the newly reclaimed waterfront, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – who’s reputed to be tough – makes a confession.

As the end of her five-year tenure approaches, she admits she has been unable to resolve problems arising from the controversial small-house policy – which grants male indigenous villagers in the New Territories the right to build a house near their ancestral homes – because the government is not ready to tackle them.

Since 1972, the policy has allowed those villagers to build a three-storey house, with up to 700 square feet of space on each floor. But it has been abused by some for quick profits.

“I confess that I can’t do it because we don’t have that readiness to tackle such a big subject,” she said candidly.

This is a rare admission. The minister has never backed down in the past when faced with tough issues, from relocating the historic Queen’s Pier to make way for a bypass, to amending the law to make it easier for developers to acquire flats in old buildings for redevelopment.

She stood her ground on a plan to take away floor-area concessions from developers and in dealing with angry rural representatives who burned her in effigy after the announcement of a policy to clear long-standing illegal structures.

Although Lam’s “can-do” spirit seemed to dim on the small-house policy, she said the problem still needed tackling through high-level co-ordination. Lam, who is tipped to be the next chief secretary, said she was willing to confront the issue soon by calling on the incoming administration to end the policy.

There are numerous hot-button issues awaiting her if she serves another five years. She hopes the new administration can realise some of her ideas, including an overhaul of the welfare system and the establishment of a harbour authority, something she has pledged to achieve.

“I told David Akers-Jones that I would not allow the small-house- policy file to be stuck in my in-tray,” she said, referring to the former chief secretary who advised chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying during his election campaign on a review of the policy. Akers-Jones administered the policy in the 1980s.

Lam said she gave up trying to resolve the small-house problems halfway through her term, when she found nothing could be done in the short term.

Firstly, she said, it is difficult to enforce the law in the New Territories. There was strong opposition, for instance, from villagers who were told to remove extra storeys built on their houses without permission from the Buildings Department.

Second, the government had to be pragmatic: it could not simply end the policy without compensating villagers who stand to benefit from it. This is something that may not sit well with urban dwellers, who already complain of unfair treatment.

“At least I didn’t compound the problem by giving [the villagers false] hope,” said Lam.

Rural villagers – including Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat, who has been appointed an Executive Councillor – have repeatedly demanded more land for small-house development.

Those lacking land for further expansion can apply for a village expansion area [VEA], a measure introduced in 1981 allowing the government to use private land outside the village and provide infrastructure. Lam said she did not grant a single one during her term, explaining: “If the demand is infinite, how many VEAs would I have to create? Also, tension between the rural and urban sectors would be intensified as there’s already not enough land for building public flats.”

Rural land is rapidly running out, with just one-third of the original 4,960 hectares made available for small houses remaining, according to the Development Bureau.

Lam said drawing a line to end the infinite demand for village houses would send a clear signal that the government should no longer widen the rural-urban gap.

Another of her battles will be reforming the heavily criticised social welfare system, an idea that has been deeply rooted in her mind since she headed the Social Welfare Department from 2000 to 2003.

Lam said she had “two unfinished agendas” when she left the department. One is a coupon system for elderly beneficiaries that would allow them to freely choose the institutions they want to stay in, rather than be allocated ones that usually provide cheap, unsatisfactory services.

The second one is what she called “a whole new paradigm shift to deal with poverty” – an overhaul of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme. “The scheme, by design, cannot reach out to certain people for whatever reasons. Sometimes for a noble reason, these people don’t want to go on CSSA because of social stigma,” she said.

Lam, who has no deputy and often works long hours, is well known for initiating cross-disciplinary projects and policies that need other bureaus’ support.

One example proposed during her tenure is the plan to establish a harbour authority, a dedicated agent to upgrade the city’s waterfront, which would require the input of transport, marine and lands officials and those managing open space.

Public consultations, passing the required legislation and obtaining lawmakers’ approval for the authority’s funding is likely to take several years, and will fall to the future Housing, Planning and Lands Bureau, to be supervised by the financial secretary. Lam said “someone is watching” to ensure the plan won’t be shelved by the next administration.

Having described Victoria Harbour five years ago as an unpolished diamond, Lam said the government would not let the waterfront lie idle any longer. Various organisations have shown interest in occupying the newly reclaimed waterfront sites in Central before they are tendered out early next year, she says. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Tourism Board plan to hold a concert and festival respectively.

The tenders are expected to bring public arts exhibits, pop-up restaurants and even a Ferris wheel to the Central waterfront. If the government worked in concert, she said, the harbour could be more vibrant with the introduction of large-scale water taxis, similar to the Thames Clippers in London.

Commenting on the role of the Culture Bureau, a new body to be formed and supervised by the next chief secretary, Lam said culture should be encompass city planning, education, industrial development, commerce, and promotion both overseas and on the mainland.

“The Culture Bureau is not just the usual LCSD culture,” she said, referring to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which is often criticised for being too bureaucratic and lacking in vision.

While Lam has repeatedly topped public opinion polls – partly due to the fact she has dealt firmly with property developers and rural villagers who are increasingly seen by Hong Kong urbanites as “common enemies” – it is unlikely that her popularity can stay at such a high level.

If she does become chief secretary, Lam will deal with even thornier issues such as political reform, and other matters that ride the tide of public approval and disfavour.

But when asked if she had any worries about the immediate future, she replied: “I never consider popularity in my work … It doesn’t bother me at all.”

She pointed out that if popularity was her main concern, she would not have opted for two widely criticised moves. One was her decision to cut CSSA by 11 per cent during the economic downturn in 2003. Another was amending a law in 2010 making it easier for private developers to acquire old buildings by lowering from 90 per cent to 80 per cent the threshold for triggering compulsory sales of remaining unsold flats in a block.

“I do it because I truly believe it was necessary to make a caring and just society. I never have this illusion that I will be popular in whatever position,” she said.

Despite the rocky patches during her term, Lam looks back on her track record with a measure of pride.

“The past five years were very, very exhausting,” she said. “But it was a very fulfilling five years, especially now. Wherever I go [in the city], I can point to my son and say, ‘Your mum has a part to play in this.'”

Known for rarely taking a break from work, she has recently been told to take it easy. Her doctor advised her to control her blood sugar.

However, Lam, looking at her future, says: “It seems I will have no break.”


2007 Went ahead with Queen’s Pier demolition despite public opposition

2007 Halted attempt by the owner of King Yin Lei to deface the Stubbs Road mansion only after they had started to do so

2008 Came under fire after buildings officers failed to order maintenance work for an old tenement in To Kwa Wan before it collapsed and killed four people.

2009 Announced the demolition plan for the West Wing of the Former Central Government Offices on Government Hill

2010 Curbed a policy that allowed developers to build green features in residential projects at low cost and include them as part of the gross floor area, making the flats look cheaper on a per-square-foot basis

2010 Got lawmakers to amend the law of compulsory sale for redevelopment, making it easier for developers to acquire old buildings

2011 Launched a “flat-for-flat” option under the new Urban Renewal Strategy. It offered new replacement flats for homeowners affected by URA projects, though the owners have to move to smaller homes if they get the option for free

2011 Announced plans to make Ho Tung Gardens a monument. The owner objected and some lawmakers hesitated to pay billions of dollars to the owner as compensation

2012 Cracked down on illegal additions to village homes, prompting fierce opposition from villagers.


If a prerequisite for this open forum was to require the government or myself to pledge a “no-relocation, no-demolition” for Queen’s Pier, then, sorry, I can’t do it.

July 2007: on the demolition of Queen’s Pier in Central

I have never seen a developer willing to scale down its projects by this much … it has fulfilled corporate social responsibility.

Finding raises diesel cancer fears

HK Standard

Diesel fumes cause cancer, the World Health Organization declared yesterday.

Mary Ann Benitez and Choya Choi

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Diesel fumes cause cancer, the World Health Organization declared yesterday.

The conclusion, announced after a week-long meeting of a panel organized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, may make vehicle exhaust gases as important as a public health threat as secondhand tobacco smoke.

Before this, diesel exhaust had been categorized as “probable carcinogen” to humans.

But now the agency, which is the WHO cancer arm, has made a definitive determination that diesel exhaust does cause cancer.

“Based on sufficient evidence, exposure [to diesel exhaust] is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer,” a statement from the IARC and the WHO said.

“It’s on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking,” Kurt Straif, director of the IARC was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

“This could be another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines.”

Straif said there may be many cases of lung cancer connected to the contaminant.

He said the fumes affected groups including pedestrians on the street, ship passengers and crew, railroad workers, truck drivers, mechanics, miners and those operating heavy machinery.

Reclassifying diesel exhaust as carcinogenic puts it into the same category as other known hazards such as asbestos, alcohol and ultraviolet radiation.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said the government has been “closely monitoring” the WHO study on the health effects of diesel engine emissions.

“As diesel vehicles emissions are the main source of pollution and have adverse effects on public health, the government has enforced a series of measures to control and reduce the emissions of diesel vehicles,” he said.

But Clear the Air chairman James Middleton did not mince words about the “failed” tenure of outgoing Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah.

He has made 60 overseas trips in 59 months, presumably seeking a source of clean air for Hong Kong during his failed portfolio tenure,” Middleton said.

“His recent Greentech jaunt to Europe where he visited a polluting incineration plant and a Scottish distillery will be of doubtful use to Hong Kong’s environmental problems.

“Roadside pollution has increased during his tenure.

Officials urged to heed WHO diesel warning


News that fumes raises cancer risk means officials should clean up and reduce diesel fleet, groups say
Dennis Chong
Jun 14, 2012

The government should cut the number of diesel-powered vehicles on the streets, and make the remainder less polluting, to protect pedestrians now the World Health Organisation has classified diesel fumes as a cause of cancer, lobby groups say.

WHO experts said that the more diesel exhaust fumes people breathed in, the more they risked getting lung and bladder cancer.

At the end of March, about 130,000 diesel-powered vehicles were registered in Hong Kong.

The Clean Air Network and think tank Civic Exchange claim the government has been too slow in toughening environmental standards for diesel engines.

Clean Air said the WHO’s decision reinforced the need for the government to set out policies to encourage the use of cleaner fuel.

According to the group, more than 80 per cent of diesel vehicles have engines that meet the emissions standards in force in the EU before the year 2000. These pre-Euro-IV- standard vehicles account for most of the city’s emissions of two key pollutants, being responsible for 88 per cent of pollutant particles in the air and 76 per cent of nitrogen oxide.

The European Union has introduced progressively tighter emission standards for vehicles since 1992. Its Euro V standard for buses and trucks was introduced in 2008; the Euro VI standard comes in next year.

Clean Air general manager Helen Choy Shuk-yi said bus companies had been reluctant to upgrade their vehicles on cost grounds.

Mike Kilburn, of Civic Exchange, said it was crucial officials speed up the phasing out of old diesel vehicles.

He also said the government may not be fully informed on the emission levels of construction machinery and other equipment, such as diggers and cranes. “There is no standard for [their] maintenance,” he said.

The government must respond to the WHO findings since people could now easily understand the harm diesel exhaust fumes cause, Kilburn said.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said it had noted the WHO decision and would consider measures to tighten controls. He also said the government was planning new laws to control emissions from machinery and equipment.

The WHO said that while the risk of getting cancer from diesel fumes was small, since so many people breathed in the fumes in some way, raising the status of diesel exhaust to carcinogen from “probable carcinogen” was an important shift.

The WHO’s updated stance was based partly on the findings of a study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which found that a wide exposure to diesel-related emissions by 12,300 underground miners increased their risk of death from lung cancer.

Choy said she expected the WHO to revise its pollution benchmarks along with the latest decision.

“Hong Kong will then fall far short of international standards in terms of its air quality benchmarks,” she said.

The government says it will toughen air-quality targets in 2014.

Waste Management

Milestone: By 2020, waste is managed as a resource. Waste generated per capita is in

absolute decline. Recycling and re-use of waste are economically attractive options for

public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of

functional markets for secondary raw materials. More materials, including materials

having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials, are recycled.

Waste legislation is fully implemented. Illegal shipments of waste have been eradicated.

Energy recovery is limited to non recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated

and high quality recycling is ensured.

Download PDF : com2011_571

European Council adopts WEEE Recast

8 June 2012

The Recast of the WEEE Directive has been formally adopted by the European Council of Ministers, its final step before entering EU law.

European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik confirmed that the Council had formally adopted the Recast yesterday, commenting on social networking site Twitter: “Council finally adopted the WEEE recast today – should see 85% of waste electronic equipment recycled in 2020. In EU, 20 kgs per person!”

With the Recast receiving formal approval from the Council of Ministers, the Directive will become law once it enters the Official Journal of the European Communities. Member States will then have 18 months to update their national legislation to comply with the changes.

Janez Potocnik has welcomed the WEEE Recast approvalJanez Potocnik has welcomed the WEEE Recast approval

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is expected to introduce legislation in 2013 to bring the UK in line with the requirements of the Recast, and last week launched a call for evidence about ahead of implementing measures to make the WEEE system less costly for businesses (see story).

The Recast will see Member States subject to new targets for recycling waste electricals above the current target of 4kg per person. As of 2016, 45 tonnes of WEEE will need to be collected for every 100 tonnes put onto the market in the three preceding years. These targets will then rise further in 2019 to a rate of 65 tonnes from every 100 put onto the market.

Widened scope

The Council has widened the scope of the legislation to cover all electric and electronic equipment, such as photovoltaic panels, equipment containing ozone-depleting substances and fluorescent lamps containing mercury. These items will have to be collected separately and properly treated six years after the legislation enters into force.

The Directive will also establish greater producer responsibility, by encouraging design and production of EEE to take repair, upgrading, re-use, disassembly and recycling into full account.

Retailers of electrical items whose shop space covers at least 400m2 will be required to provide facilities for customers to return small WEEE (no more than 25cm) free of charge or show that an alternative system is equally as effective.

Tougher restrictions on the illegal export of WEEE, to prevent waste electricals from being processed in countries where conditions are hazardous to workers and the environment are also set to be introduced. The measures will see exporters made responsible for proving that goods are being shipped abroad for repair or reuse

Call to revise EU incineration rules

The European Commission should revise 2020 recycling targets set in the Waste Framework Directive to ensure that there is no incineration of waste that could be recycled, according to MEPs.

A resolution stating that the EU should maximise resources to kick start the economy was adopted by the European Parliament yesterday [24 May].

Valuable materials should be recovered instead of landfilled or incinerated and taxation should penalise resource waste to help boost the EU’s competitiveness, say MEPs.

The European Parliament said that the Commission should revise the 2020 recycling targets set in the Waste Framework Directive and ensure, by the end of the decade, that there is no incineration of waste that could be recycled or composted.

“The European Parliament and the European Commission have laid down ambitious plans to tackle resource use. It is now up to the member states to pick up the gauntlet and fight for resource efficiency.

“Implementation of my report would mean economic growth, creation of jobs and protection of the environment. What are we waiting for?” said rapporteur Gerban-Jan Gerbrandy after the resolution was adopted with 479 votes in favour, 66 against and 63 abstentions.

Call for landfill ban

The European Parliament’s resolution calls for a gradual phase-out of landfill of waste and calls on the Commission to make proposals to that effect by the end of 2014.

EU industry and consumers stand to gain from better designed products, say MEPs, who call on the Commission to propose an update to the eco-design directive to include non-energy related products and to demand better durability, recyclability and reparability of goods. Labelling should also provide consumers with guidance on resource use and environmental impact.

Taxation and subsidies

Parliament has urged Member States to shift towards environmental taxation, which MEPs state should allow cuts in other taxes, such as those on labour. Incentives, such as reduced VAT on certain secondary materials, could also help to correct market failures and promote innovation.

MEPs also call on the Commission and Member States to come forward with plans to eliminate environmentally-harmful subsides by 2020, echoing previous Parliament resolutions.

The public sector can play a further part by tightening rules on “green public procurement”, say MEPs, who call on the Commission to look into applying such environmentally-friendly conditions on EU-funded projects.

Resource efficiency plans

To expand improvements in resource use, MEPs call on the Commission to create task forces to develop European Resource Efficiency Action Plans in the areas of food and drink, housing, and mobility.

BAA’s third Heathrow runway plans back on the agenda

Description: Aerial view of planes on apron at London Heathrow Airport, UK

A government policy change will allow proposals for a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport to be submitted by BAA. Photograph: Ben Cawthra/Rex Features

The government will not block BAA from submitting proposals for a third Heathrow runway in a forthcoming revamp of policy on aviation hubs, in a move that heads off the threat of legal action by the airport owner.

A senior representative of the London mayor, Boris Johnson, said the government would allow BAA to push for expansion of Britain’s largest airport. Daniel Moylan, the mayor’s aviation policy chief, said it did not mean a third runway was back on the government’s policy agenda.

“Boris Johnson understands that for legal reasons the government is going to have to allow examination of every option. But this should not be taken as expressing a preference for a third runway,” said Moylan. Johnson is the most prominent political backer of a new airport in the south-east, with options including a new site in the Thames estuary. However, he is against the expansion of Heathrow.

The government is launching two aviation documents in July: a consultation on a “sustainable aviation framework”; and a request for options on maintaining airport hubs in the UK. If BAA lobbies for a third runway through the latter, according to one industry source, the government could use the principles established in the sustainable aviation study to rule it out emphatically or resurrect it.

“If a third runway at Heathrow can meet requirements for a sustainable aviation policy, it will be sifted through for consideration. If it cannot, it will be sifted out. That is a robust and entirely legal position to take,” said the source.

A senior aviation industry source said the options document would allow for a third runway submission, amid speculation that BAA will seek a judicial review if it is barred from submitting an argument for expansion. “The document will be carefully worded so as not to exclude any potential options for increasing hub airport capacity,” said the source.

The Department for Transport said the government remained against a third runway. “The coalition’s position regarding Heathrow has not changed,” it said.

The shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, said: “The only way we are going to get agreement on a long-term strategy is if ministers finally take up our offer to work together on a cross-party basis to develop a sensible alternative to the rejected Heathrow third runway and the unworkable fantasy Thames estuary proposals.”

However, allowing a submission on Heathrow expansion will increase fears among third-runway opponents that senior government figures are nonetheless sympathetic to BAA’s case. Those concerns are shared by Johnson’s camp, which believes high-profile campaigning by business leaders and Willie Walsh, the boss of International Airlines Group, is having an effect. Johnson is concerned that his lobbying for more airport capacity in the south-east will bolster the campaign for a reversal on Heathrow, instead of boosting his calls for a new airport.

Those fears have been stoked by an apparent softening in the vehemence of David Cameron and George Osborne’s opposition to new runways in the south-east. The prime minister said in March that he was “not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the south-east“. A few days later, in the budget, Osborne made a pointed call to confront the lack of runways in the London area.

Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond, on Sunday reiterated his threat to stand down as an MP if his party backtracked on Heathrow.

SCMP letter

Incinerator plan is a disgrace

I refer to James Middleton’s letter (“Ash from incinerator is hazardous”, June 7), citing hazards associated with incinerators, and wish to point out that the use of such facilities to get rid of waste is basically the same as dumping this waste into our oceans.

Burnt waste is turned into gases; they stay with us and are then dissolved into rain clouds, and then the rain falls into our oceans. Most incinerators are located to allow emissions to discharge into the sea to reduce the impact to us land-dwellers.

Modern incinerators, such as the integrated waste management facilities being proposed in Hong Kong, merely ensure that emissions are odourless and invisible to the naked eye. However, no greenhouse gas will be captured, which will affect global warming. The Environmental Protection Department and minister Edward Yau Tang-wah, who are promoting these waste facilities, are a disgrace for not protecting our environment.

Nigel Lam, Kowloon Tong

Tony Blair avoids attempted citizen’s arrest in Hong Kong


Tony Blair avoids attempted citizen’s arrest in Hong Kong

British activist interrupts former prime minister’s speech with accusations of war crimes


Peter Walker, Thursday 14 June 2012 13.19 BST

Tony Blair was delivering a speech at the University of Hong Kong in his role as founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Photograph: Antony Dickson/AFP/Getty Images

The list of places where Tony Blair must look over his shoulder for protesters during his endless carousel around the global lecture circuit now includes Hong Kong, after a speech on faith and globalisation was interrupted by an activist seeking to make a citizen’s arrest on the former prime minister.

Tom Grundy, a Briton living in the Chinese territory, said he walked towards Blair a few minutes into the address at Hong Kong University (HKU) with the intention of apprehending him for alleged offences connected to the Iraq war.

The 29-year-old said he had registered online to attend the talk, which took place on Thursday evening local time. Although Blair makes considerable sums as a paid-for speaker, this event was a more personal engagement, marking a link between HKU and his own Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Grundy carried with him a sheaf of notes about the legal basis for the attempted arrest, covering, he said, alleged violations of the UN charter, the Nuremberg principles, and the Geneva and Hague conventions.

“I waited till he’d been speaking a minute or so before I stood up and went towards him and said, ‘Mr Blair, under Hong Kong’s Power 101 law – the law which allows for citizen’s arrest here – I’ll be arresting you for crimes against peace’,” Grundy told the Guardian shortly afterwards.

“There was a gaggle of photographers just in front of him. As I tried to pass through them to him, one of the gentlemen with him prevented me from going any further.”

To his surprise, Grundy said he was not bundled away by Blair’s guards or campus security and eventually left after the police, who he hoped would assist in arresting Blair, failed to arrive. He was not arrested and was allowed to stay on campus.

The protester said he was himself “too flustered” to note Blair’s reaction. “He gave the usual line about ‘That’s democracy in action’,” Grundy said. “He was talking about faith and globalisation, and I made the point to him that he can’t speak about religion when he’s set back religious tolerance by decades.”

Such protests have become an increasingly common feature of Blair’s agenda since he left office. Last month, his testimony to the Leveson inquiry into the media was interrupted by an activist who shouted that the former PM should be arrested for war crimes. David Lawley-Wakelin, 49, gained entry to the room at the Royal Courts of Justice via an unguarded rear staircase.

Grundy said: “I think he’s so used to it now, and that’s part of the idea, to let him know that he should have to endure this wherever he goes. If he’s at an event and the press are around, someone needs to remind him that he’s a war criminal.”

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.