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July 5th, 2012:

The dirty truth about China’s incinerators

The dirty truth about China’s incinerators

The boom in polluting waste-to-energy plants in China has led to a backlash from residents, including one man’s long-running legal crusade

 incinerator at a plant in Qionghai, Southern Hainan province of China

A Chinese worker controls robotic arms to throw rubbish into an incinerator at a plant in Qionghai, Southern Hainan province of China. Photograph: Corbis

Xie Yong could be called a pioneer. He is one of very few to date to sue a Chinese government agency over its unlawful refusal of requested data. His crusade for change has little to do with civic altruism, however. Xie’s struggle is personal in nature, his actions forced by desperation. He has been battling his son’s paralysis-causing epileptic seizures and mounting health care costs since 2010. His son’s condition, Xie believes, is the result of toxic emissions from an incineration plant near his home.

Xie and his wife, Ma Hongmei, lived in Nantong, Jiangsu province, when Ma gave birth to their son, Yongkang, in 2008. Even before they could celebrate his first 100 days of life, Yongkang’s parents noticed he was not developing normally. He did not laugh like other babies and had trouble seeing and hearing. Most disturbing, he twitched incessantly and could not be placated. Shortly after, he became paralysed. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with cerebral palsy.

During Ma’s pregnancy and in her son’s first two months of life, the family lived a short distance from the local trash incineration plant. The facility’s odorous emissions were constant, but neither Ma nor Xie understood what risks they might be facing. Shanghai Xinhua Hospital determined that Yongkang’s disease was not genetic, but caused by environmental factors during Ma’s pregancy.

Xie researched the science behind incineration emissions and health defects, spoke with experts, and learned that other couples in the village had experienced premature births and stillbirths. The couple concluded that their proximity to the plant, and the constant pollution it spewed, were to blame.

In 2010, Xie sought the assistance of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), a China-based legal aid NGO that provides assistance to citizens and wages legal battles in the name of environmental justice. The centre felt that his story justified legal action and, with Xie’s help, began collecting the evidence needed to build a case against the company that owned the plant, Jiangsu Tianying Saite Environmental Protection Energy Group.

In China’s first personal health-related legal case against a waste incinerator, the Hai’an local court heard the case in September 2010. Xie submitted analysis revealing dioxin concentrations in nearby air that grossly exceeded legal limits; reports documenting the physical condition of plant workers and other children living near the plant; and scientific papers demonstrating a link between dioxin and birth defects. The local judge rejected Xie’s claims, prompting him to appeal to the county court. A county-level trial took place May 2011, with similar results. The court deemed the evidence insufficient and issued a verdict against Xie.

In response to these blows, Xie turned directly to the authorities. He filed a request for emissions data for the plant in question from the local environmental protection bureau, to which he had legal entitlement (read more about China’s open government information laws here and here). His request was denied, on the grounds that releasing data would compromise the company’s business secrets. Xie next asked the provincial level Ministry of Environmental Protection, one administrative level higher, to release emissions reports to him. They, too, turned him down. But he is determined to continue his fight.

Activists like CLAPV’s Liu Jinmei believe that Xie’s efforts “indicate a growing awareness of safeguarding the rights of victims of pollutants”. However, it is hard to know how many individuals with situations similar to Xie’s, but completely unaware of the potentially serious health risks they face, are out there. This is because conditions at Chinese waste-to-energy facilities are by and large shrouded in mystery.

The incineration boom

China did not commission its first waste-to-energy plant until little more than a decade ago. Before 1990, public waste-treatment infrastructure handled less than 2% of the country’s household waste. At the same time, output of inorganic rubbish was marginal.

Rapid change in waste production and management trends occurred in China over the last two decades. China now generates over a quarter of the world’s garbage, at least 250 million tonnes annually. With municipal solid waste (MSW) growing 8% to10% annually, cities are under great pressure to deliver advanced waste-management solutions.

Landfills currently handle roughly half of China’s MSW, while only about 10% is incinerated. Official credo suggests that landfills will continue to play a dominant role. But Beijing’s push to increase the share of burned waste is unmistakable: a central target calls for 30% of MSW to be treated by waste-to-energy incineration by 2030.

Presently, incineration is growing at a feverish pace. Industry insiders and state-run media routinely declare 300 plants will be operational by the time the 12th Five-Year Plan runs its course in 2015. A 2009 study by banking group Standard Chartered found that over one-half of global orders for new waste-incineration facilities came from China.

Information on the number of waste-to-energy plants in China is scarce and, when available, difficult to unpack. Interviews with experts and policymakers rarely converge on a single number, but their guesses routinely fall somewhere between 100 and 200. In an independent, verified assessment I conducted in 2011, I detected at least 155 plants currently operating or under construction. I would not be surprised if plans for new plants have been announced in the three months during which my data has aged.

China’s earliest incineration plants deployed imported grate burn technology common in developed economies. Plant operators quickly found that Chinese MSW generally makes poor feedstock. This is because China’s vast informal sector extracts the most easily burned trash, like paper, wood and plastic. The remaining composition is largely organic waste, too wet to burn without costly pre-treatment or fuel supplements. Technological barriers aside, the price of these technologies also puts them out of reach for China’s second and third-tier cities.

Combined with these practical obstacles, Beijing’s drive to localise environmental technologies helped catalyse (state-funded) development of domestic incineration technologies suited to Chinese conditions. Newer plants prominently feature domestically developed equipment, including both grate and circular fluidised-bed (CFB) type incinerators. Though smaller in terms of capacity, CFB incinerators generate similar amounts of electricity to stoke grates. They are also more flexible in terms of feedstock, permitting coal to be added for easier ignition. For these reasons, CFB incinerators enjoy considerable popularity in the market and now account for about half of China’s MSW treatment capacity.

Early central-level legislation on municipal waste management – passed almost a decade ago – sanctioned private-sector involvement. These measures, intended to encourage growth in waste-to-energy installations, relaxed state control in a way that has yet to take place in the energy sector. However, the primary catalyst for growth in the sector has been generous government incentives.

Waste-to-energy incineration is classified as a renewable energy form in China, meaning that plants receive a feed-in tariff for every kilowatt hour of electricity they generate. Only two months ago, Beijing announced a fixed subsidised price for power purchased from waste-to-energy plants, which is about double that from coal-powered plants.

The results of these subsidies are dramatic. Both foreign and local waste-to-energy players have rushed to stake their claims, in some cases submitting loss-making tender offers just to get a foothold. Many waste-management experts suspect that Chinese city officials are among the most eager investors; using public infrastructure and tax revenue to profit personally.

Peeling back a green facade

The ongoing justification for favourable waste-to-energy policies in China is simple: cities stem the problem of growing waste while getting much needed electricity in the process. That formula, however appealing, appears too good to be true.

China’s incinerators, though canonised as a “clean energy,” have a dirty underside. Thermal waste treatment plants are subject to emissions regulations considerably looser than those for power plants. Legally, they can emit nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide at, respectively, four and five times the levels of power plants in China.

Newer facilities are installed with air-pollution control systems, but these are costly to use and maintain. Thus, many plants operate without the required flue gas filtering equipment. Likewise, treatment of other highly toxic byproducts – such as wastewater removed before incineration and fly ash created during burning – tends to be either poor or non-existent. This follows partly from the lack of regulations on how waste-to-energy plants should treat wastewater.

The company which operates the facility near where Xie Yong’s family lived boasts on its website that it uses an advanced pollution control system which meets European emissions standards, but no details are given. This is a common claim among waste-to-energy developers. On the other hand, air and water pollution in waste-to-energy plants in China has been well-documented. According to some reportssome plants emit dioxins at levels 24 times higher than those from American waste-to-energy facilities.

Making matters worse, plant operators regularly add coal to the burning waste. In private interviews, Waste-to-energy plant operators admitted to using a feedstock mix comprising equal parts coal and rubbish, which far exceeds the 20% coal limit mandated by the central government. It is not unheard of for the share of coal to be as high as 70%. Under these conditions, plants are operating essentially as small coal-fired power stations – exactly the kind of facility that Beijing is trying to eliminate on public health grounds.

Finally, while incineration plants in Europe charge rubbish haulers “tipping fees” that may reach US$132 (840 yuan) per tonne of waste, these fees rarely exceed US$16 (100 yuan) per tonne in China, and usually hover around US$8 (50 yuan). When Xie’s son was born, the plant near his house was making US$10 (64 yuan) for each tonne of trash they accepted. Many experts say that environmentally sound performance, and the costs it requires, is not technologically feasible with such low tipping fees.

Light beyond the haze

Weak regulation and misaligned policies, combined with an absence of public emissions data, make for a truly toxic incineration sector. Xie Yong is not the only one who has noticed.

Beginning a few years ago, communities near existing plants, offended by odorous emissions and worried about possible health risks, began protesting against new projects. In one incident, which took place in Xie’s Jiangsu province, as many as 10,000 residents gathered and clashed with police over a waste incinerator in their village. According to Chinese media reports, by mid-2010 construction of at least six new plants had been postponed due to public opposition.

By some accounts, China’s leadership has heeded the warnings. In interviews, city officials have said that some Chinese mayors are blocking new projects, concerned they could trigger unrest, thereby marring their reputations and chances of promotion.

Alongside these grassroots efforts, NGOs like Beijing-based Green Beagle are working to substantiate public opposition to incineration with actual emissions performance data. Having campaigned for, and been denied, credible figures for almost five years, the organisation is exploring the possibility of establishing independent waste-to-energy emissions monitoring stations.

As for Xie Yong, it is too early to say whether he can navigate a way through China’s legal system and extract the data he is so desperate to get his hands on, in the belief it will demonstrate a more direct relationship between the plant’s operations and his son’s crippling illness. With every other option exhausted, Xie decided early this year to sue the provincial-level Ministry of Environmental Protection at the Jiangsu provincial court. The trial is expected to take place later this year.

“Taking the ministry to court is my last choice,” Xie has said. “It’s the only way I can get justice.” Though his case is still unresolved, growing numbers of onlookers await the outcome.

Xie’s legal fight – the first of its kind – highlights the pressing need for greater transparency and accountability in the incineration sector. At the same time, growing popular opposition suggests that persistent, and public, resistance may be China’s best bet for achieving meaningful regulatory reform in the waste-to-energy sector.

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

Retailers in tight spot

HK Standard

Despite reduced spending by mainland visitors, exorbitant retail store rents in popular shopping districts are holding firm because of big brand-name penetration and limited space supply, analysts say.

Natallie Cai

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Despite reduced spending by mainland visitors, exorbitant retail store rents in popular shopping districts are holding firm because of big brand-name penetration and limited space supply, analysts say.

“Retailers are cautious on store expansion, due to lower consumption sentiment locally and slower growth in the number of tourists,” said DTZ Debenham Tie Leung head of retail in Hong Kong Kevin Lam Ying-wai.

“More retailers are moving to less busy streets, but international brands are competing from high-street stores.”

In May, the number of mainland visitors rose 19.4 percent year-on-year, easing from an annual gain of 23.9 percent in April, according to Hong Kong Tourism Board data.

Amid a gloomy economic outlook, retail sales in the territory rose 8.8 percent by value in May year-on-year, to HK$36 billion, compared with a 11.4 percent increase the previous month.

Mainland visitors accounted for about 33 percent of the HK$406 billion total retail spending in Hong Kong last year.

The four most popular shopping districts remain Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. Scores of top brands from the United States and Europe continue to look for retail space in Central and even plan to expand to Wan Chai, said Terence Chan Yiu-fung, Jones Lang LaSalle’s local director for the retail sector.

Last month, Seattle-based fashion brand Tommy Bahama signed a lease and will open its flagship store in Wan Chai, paying HK$1.1 million rent per month for the 5,800-square-foot unit, or HK$190 per square foot, in the autumn.

Meanwhile, US-headquartered Abercrombie & Fitch is planning an August 11 grand opening for its first Hong Kong store in the Pedder Building in Central. The casual wear retailer signed a lease last year to pay a staggering HK$7 million a month, or HK$551psf, rent to take over the 12,700-sq-ft premises previously occupied by Shanghai Tang.

Among other prominent brands, Gap is splashing out HK$385 psf for a shop on Theatre Lane in Central, while Burberry is leasing space in Pacific Place in Admiralty for HK$4 million a month, or HK$200 psf. Forever 21 has taken premises in Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay, at HK$215 psf monthly. H&M inked a nine-year contract for a shop on Queen’s Road Central at HK$114 psf.

Russell Street – across from Times Square in Causeway Bay – continues to command the highest retail rents in Hong Kong, averaging HK$1,260 psf monthly, lagging only Fifth Avenue in New York, where rents averaged HK$1,463 psf last year.

The 40-story mixed-use Hysan Place, at 500 Hennessy Road, scheduled for completion next month, will provide 17 floors of retail space, but most of its total 710,000 sq ft has already been spoken for. Eslite book store is reportedly leasing 40,000 sq ft on three floors, while US fashion brand Hollister California plans to open a 20,000-sq-ft outlet next year in the new mall.

The upscale Hysan Place opening is expected to affect smaller shops in the Hennessy Road vicinity, pushing them out to neighboring streets such as Yun Ping Road, Kai Chiu Road, and Lee Garden Road, Jones Lang LaSalle’s Chan said.

Monthly rent for a 10,000-sq-ft shop recently secured by cosmetic product chain Bonjour rose to HK$5 million, up fivefold from the HK$1 million previously paid by apparel chain G2000.

Hysan Place will be the only new retail supply put on the market in the four traditional shopping areas this year.

Looking ahead, a total gross floor area of 1.5 million sq ft of prime shopping malls will be supplied in the next four years. However, only 28 percent, or 673,000 sq ft, will be launched in core areas such as Central and Causeway Bay, said Jones Lang LaSalle head of retail Tom Gaffney.

Rents on Pak Sha Road in Causeway Bay doubled from the last two-year contract, and rents on Wellington Street in Central jumped more than 70 percent,” said Midland Commercial executive director Daniel Wong Hon- shing.

Chan said Wan Chai is likely to become the next busy shopping district as some jewelry stores have opened on Lockhart Road. He noted one jeweler is paying monthly rent of HK$1 million for 1,000 sq ft of space – about 10 times more than a neighborhood restaurant of similar size.

More investors have turned to the retail market due to government controls on the residential market and expectations of declines in office rents.

Cantopop star Leo Ku Kui-kei reportedly bought a shop at 22 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, for HK$54 million, while Nicholas TseTing-fung is said to have purchased a jewelry store nearby for HK$91.3 million.

High time the Government  did something about restoring residential housing protection

It was done away with the ‘help’ the ;landlords after SARS

There is no reason why it should not return now

There is one thing that is not negotiable in Hong Kong and that is rent

Bakery, tea shop fold as real estate market heats up in Causeway Bay
Lana Lam
Jul 01, 2012

Food lovers suffered the bitter taste of disappointment yesterday when two more much-loved culinary mainstays in the city closed their doors.

Devoted customers of Leighton Bakery’s store on Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, munched on its delectable egg tarts and sausage buns for the last time yesterday as owner Lam Shek-yam closed his store to cash in on the city’s property boom.

Taking a break from the lunchtime rush, which saw crowds snaking around the block for a final snack, Lam said it was with a heavy heart that he shut down the bakery, which has been his place of work for the last 28 years.

Resting in a seat next to the drinks counter, Lam, who started baking at the age of 12, said: “A lot of customers came this week to say goodbye.”

The store has long been a favourite with shoppers and office workers grabbing a bite for lunch or a quick breakfast. Lam says he has sold the shop for HK$140 million – a huge profit on the HK$13 million he paid to buy the site in 1996.

Customers will now have to go a little further afield to the bakery’s sister outlet on Leighton Road.

A few blocks away, restaurateur Tai Chung pulled down the shutters on Lan Fong, a cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style cafe.

He has fallen victim to the cut-throat property market in Causeway Bay, one of the most expensive places in the world to rent retail space. He paid just HK$19,000 per month for the premises when he opened his business in 1987, but is now paying HK$80,000.

He was given his marching orders after negotiations on a new lease broke down in March.

Tai, who still runs the original Lan Fong on Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, would not disclose the rent he was asked to pay but said that even if he had offered double the previous figure, he would not have kept the lease.

“We just couldn’t work it out,” he said last night.

He hopes to open another Lan Fong in Causeway Bay and is scouting for a new venue.

It’s a familiar story in Causeway Bay, where last month a sock retailer was forced to become a street hawker after the rent on her 250 sq ft shop was doubled from HK$70,000 to HK$150,000 and the site of a small noodle shop went on the market for HK$180 million in April – a year after it was sold for HK$100 million.

Indonesian restaurant 1968 closed its main Causeway Bay location when rents rose last year, while the UA Cinema chain was ousted from Times Square, apparently to accommodate a luxury retailer.

Japanese restaurant Wallmann Market, near the new Best Western hotel on Canal Road West, closed in August after the landlord raised the monthly rent to HK$180,000 from HK$85,000. The 3,000 sq ft Nam Ah Restaurant, also on Leighton Road, closed in November after its landlord increased its rent to HK$360,000 from HK$255,000.

The area around Times Square, a popular spot for rich mainland tourists, has seen a huge influx of luxury brands in recent years, while analysts believe the opening of the massive Hysan (SEHK: 0014) Place shopping and office complex will push rents up further.

Foes unite over audit crime bill

Clear the Air says:  Lawmakers are supposed to represent the wishes of their constituents. We doubt that blue collar workers in ShamShuiPo or Tin Shui Wai would be directing filibusters against

Audit Laws that would better the  business environment. This means someone else is pushing these political party actions from behind the scenes.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.  In many first world jurisdictions all Political party donations must be revealed so the public can see who is pulling the political party puppet strings and who shapes their policies and agendas – it is high time Hong Kong had such Legislation. Lawmakers and Exco members have to report their assets and incomes and it is disingenuous that political parties are not required to do so. Would there be uproar if it was revealed North Korea was funding a HK political party ? What is stopping this happening at present ?

Foes unite over audit crime bill
New law poised to pass after city’s two largest political parties throw support behind it
Enoch Yiu
Jul 05, 2012

A law to hold auditors criminally liable if they fail to declare a company’s accounting problems is set to pass after the city’s two largest political parties yesterday said they backed it.

The 2,000-page Companies Bill, being debated in the Legislative Council, aims to modernise the outdated Companies Ordinances.

Accountants have been lobbying lawmakers hard in the past two weeks to remove the criminal liability provision. But the bill is expected to be approved by Legco after the Democratic Party and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) told the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) yesterday they would back it.

“Although many accountants worry about the liability, there is a public interest so we support the law change,” said DAB legislator Starry Lee Wai-king, herself an accountant.

Paul Chan Mo-po, legislator for the accountancy sector, yesterday withdrew a proposed amendment to the bill that would have removed the criminal liability provision. He told the Post he will ask lawmakers to accept an amendment that accountants only face criminal liability if they failed to make the declaration “knowingly” and not “recklessly” as stipulated in the bill.

“I agree there is a public interest issue here. If an accountant knows about the problem and does not make the declaration, they should face liability,” Chan said.

Chan will still lobby lawmakers to vote down a provision that would make junior accountants liable. He wants only qualified accountants who have signed the audit report to face criminal sanctions.

The bill means auditors will face prosecution if they fail to disclose financial irregularities. They could also be punished for failing to declare if they were unable to obtain all the information needed to resolve any discrepancies. If convicted they would face a maximum fine of HK$150,000, but there would be no jail term.

Separately, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has proposed criminal sanctions, including fines and jail terms, for sponsors of initial public offerings (IPOs) which fail in their due diligence.

Auditors and sponsors have come under the spotlight recently after several companies were found to have accounting problems after listing.

The High Court last month ordered sport fabric maker Hontex International Holdings to pay back more than HK$1 billion to investors for overstating its revenue and profit in the three years before issuing its listing prospectus in 2009.

However, even with support secured for the bill, there is little hope of a quick resolution as three radical democrats continue filibustering attempts to delay the vote.

“Our target is not the Companies Bill but we will make sure it will not be voted on until next week,” said People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man.

Brokers have complained that the filibuster has hurt investors’ interests.

“The law change will ensure accountants perform their duties,” said Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, chairman of Christfund Securities. “The lawmakers should abandon their filibuster.”

The bill is already having an effect. Listed building materials distributor E. Bon Holdings said yesterday its auditor Grant Thornton had resigned over two outstanding accounting issues in its annual report.

Give Leung a chance to prove himself

Clear the Air says:

Exactly – let them get on  with cleaning up the collusion related mess and filthy air and policies left by Bow Tie, and pursue Misconduct in Public Office charges against him and his basementgate subordinate.

SCMP Letters 05 July 2012

Give Leung a chance to prove himself

Leung Chun-ying has assumed office as chief executive in a stormy political climate.

He has faced questions over his integrity, but I think the requests of some critics have been unreasonable.

He should be allowed to make a fresh start.

Hong Kong now needs a leader of talent and vigour. In the past seven years, we had a chief executive who felt he had done his duty. But it is easy to pinpoint the inadequacies and maladministration of the government.

We need a leader to clean up the mess left by the administration of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. The new government team must fight the uphill battle of narrowing the gap between rich and poor. It must also deal with social mobility, demographic issues, and education and housing problems.

We must give it a chance to show it can overcome the obstacles it faces.

We have enough time to make Hong Kong an ideal place to live and bring up a family. We need a leader who can put us back on track and build up a harmonious society.

Politicians make mistakes. Take former US president Bill Clinton for example. He may have had integrity problems, but I am sure readers would agree that he did a lot for his country.

C. Y. Leung and his team of ministers will be closely watched, so there is no question of them evading scrutiny.

Lo Wai-kong, Yau Ma Tei

Illegal is not the same as unauthorised

SCMP Letters 05 July 2012

Illegal is not the same as unauthorised

I believe that there is a huge difference between illegal structures and unauthorised building works.

An illegal structure is built without the consent of the Buildings Department and the authorised person and/or registered building contractor may be sanctioned and proceedings taken against them under the Buildings Ordinance.

Meanwhile, many households enclose balconies or erect structures to provide shade without taking advice from building professionals.

When reported to the department, the compliance officer may simply issue a letter demanding that the building be returned to its original state. The unauthorised building works must be removed within a given time limit.

If the owner of the structure affected by these works fails to comply with the order, then, and only then, are legal proceedings enacted.

The question of whether a canopy or shade structure breaches the Buildings Department’s gross floor area definition is often a matter of judgment.

It sometimes turns on how easily the structure can be removed.

In the now infamous case of Leung Chun-ying’s Peak house, I would say that the department has made a ruling that the various temporary-in-nature building additions should have been the subject of an alterations and additions submission and are therefore classified as unauthorised building works.

As far as I can ascertain, Mr Leung has not raised an objection and has ordered all works to be removed within the prescribed time set by the department. There is nothing illegal about this.

John Latter, Happy Valley

Can a new broom sweep clean in HK?

Paul G. Harris calls on the government to adopt bold thinking on the environment

Jul 05, 2012

The recent Rio+20 conference on sustainable development revealed how difficult it is to persuade politicians to take environmental protection seriously. The declaration, “The Future We Want”, addresses important topics, such as plans to establish sustainable development goals and new measures of gross domestic product that account for environmental services. But, overall, the conference was a flop.

Here in Hong Kong, sustainability has been a declared objective of government for almost two decades, but far too little has been done to implement it. We have terrible roadside pollution, sewage flowing into the sea, infuriating noise pollution, enormous material consumption, one of the highest levels of rubbish per person, thousands of uninsulated, energy-hogging skyscrapers, and huge per capita carbon footprints.

With the inauguration of a new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, so soon after the Rio conference, a question worth asking is whether his government will make environmental protection a bigger priority than did his predecessor. Will he and his new ministers adopt their forerunners’ tendencies to disappoint with incredibly weak policies that do little to address Hong Kong’s air, water, waste and energy problems?

There are reasons to worry that we might get more of the same. The majority of new ministers have extensive experience in government, which is probably the last thing we need. Incredibly, former environment secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah, who was repeatedly criticised by environmentalists for impotent policies, has been put in charge of the Chief Executive’s Office. With Yau as gatekeeper at Government House, one assumes environmental protection won’t make it through the door.

The new secretary for housing, planning and lands (under the restructuring plan), Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, is a consummate insider. He has no credentials suggesting he’ll make sustainability a priority.He will have to unlearn the government’s style of “consultation”, which is to decide policy among insiders behind closed doors, work hard to sell it to the public, and then ram it through even if people won’t buy it.

There is some cause for hope in Wong Kam-sing, the new environment secretary, an architect who knows well that Hong Kong cannot tackle its environmental problems without abandoning the government’s love affair with developers who lock the city into unsustainable living with their concrete-pouring. But he may find vested interests too much to cope with.

A test of the administration’s credibility will come when it implements promises to shorten the waiting time for public housing. Will new developments come at the expense of the environment? Will they be built on green belt and agricultural land, or will ministers cut through the calcified bureaucracy and utilise former industrial areas close to jobs and public transport?

Another test will be whether new housing stock, both public and private, meets international standards for energy efficiency. Buildings are the largest users of electricity in Hong Kong. Will new housing for the poor be insulated to keep out the heat in summer and retain it in winter, thereby limiting the city’s carbon footprint and greatly reducing tenants’ electricity bills?

The administration can overcome past failures if it approaches sustainability with resolve and creativity. But this will require putting sustainability at the top of the policy agenda, shaking up the bureaucracy,democratising the political system, accepting much greater responsibility for pollution, and implementing robust environmental education.

Without aggressive moves towards genuine sustainability, “the future we want” here in Hong Kong will remain little more than a dream.

Professor Paul G. Harris is author/editor of 15 books, including the newly published Environmental Policy and Sustainable Development in China: Hong Kong in Global Context

Sorry state of affairs for new ministers

Illegal structures controversy brings more apologies from cabinet members, with one admitting to having an unauthorised drying rack outside a tenanted flat
Olga Wong, Colleen Lee, Tony Cheung and Stuart Lau
Jul 05, 2012

Two ministers apologised yesterday for illegal structures and building work at their properties, as the controversy rolled on.

The apologies came on the second day in office of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is facing legal challenges and calls for him to resign over the illegal structures found at his house on The Peak.

Food and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man made a second apology for not seeking approval before merging his two penthouse flats in Kowloon Tong. This was followed by Ko’s colleague, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim, apologising for an unauthorised drying rack outside his tenanted flat in Wan Chai.

Meanwhile, Leung has yet to clarify whether a trellis at his home – one of six unauthorised structures found at the Peel Rise property – was a replacement for a trellis built by the former owner or a new one that he had built.

In an ironic twist, one of the “authorised persons” Leung hired to inspect his home last month was found to have an illegal housing structure.

Andy Wong Kam-din, a Poly University engineering professor, changed the flower bed design at his home in Tsuen Wan without seeking approval, and a removal order the Buildings Department issued in May 2010 has yet to be complied with.

Wong said in statement last night that the removal order covered 1,500 households in similar situations to his on the estate where he lived and that more than 100 of them, including him, had filed appeals. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 22, he said.

Others embroiled in the growing controversy of illegal structures include lawmaker Cheung Hok-ming, Executive Council member Bernard Chan and Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Gregory So Kam-leung. So and Chan yesterday said that removal works were under way.

In the Legislative Council yesterday, Ko declined to comment on his integrity, saying it was for the public to judge.

“It is true that I did not appoint an authorised person to submit a revised plan [for the alteration] at the time [in 2005]. For this, I sincerely apologise to the public,” Ko said, adding he did not do so as the alteration did not involve a structural wall.

Surveyor Vincent Ho Kui-yip said the Buildings Department usually approved merging flats without removing a structural wall. But in Ko’s case, the size of the expanded flat’s balconies exceeded the five-square- metres-per-apartment rule.

Ho said that the building plan shows that Ko’s contractor gave the merged unit two balconies with a total area of 5.4 square metres.

“Ko may have to restore the wall or reduce the size of his balconies, but the latter would be a great disturbance to residents,” Ho said.

Ko has also admitted that a glass house was built on the rooftop, but it was immediately removed after Leung asked him in May to be the new health minister.

As for education chief Eddie Ng, a spokeswoman said his drying rack had been removed.

On an RTHK programme yesterday, Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong echoed Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s view that it was unlikely Leung had tried to conceal his illegal structures, as some critics have claimed.

Asked if he ruled out doubts about Leung’s integrity, Lam said: “We’ll wait and see how he will explain the details.”

Description: The size of Ko Wing-man's balconies breached a rule.