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Protesters win right to fight incinerator

SCMP – June 8, 2012

High Court grants four activists permission to launch legal challenge against government plan to build a HK$23 billion waste disposal facility off Lantau
Austin Chiu
Jun 08, 2012

Four protesters yesterday won permission to launch a court challenge against a government plan to build a massive offshore waste incinerator – even though the project is on hold.

The four were granted leave by the High Court to mount a judicial review of decisions by the Town Planning Board and the director of the Environmental Protection Department that cleared the path for building the incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, an island south of Lantau and home to a drug rehabilitation centre with about 300 patients and staff.

The four protesters come from Lantau and nearby Cheung Chau.

The government had sought funding for the HK$23 billion incinerator (including HK$8 billion to expand landfills), which it said could handle 3,000 tonnes of waste a day, but said in April the request would not proceed during the tenure of the present government.

The four claimed that the environmental impact assessment report was substandard because it failed to explain why there were no alternative options or give details of measures to counter negative effects of the incinerator.

Leung Hon-wai, Sin Chi-man, Kwok Cheuk-kin and Ho Loy were also unhappy with the Executive Council’s decision to approve an outline zoning plan for Shek Kwu Chau and the artificial island on which the burner would be built.

The hearing will take place between November 14 and 16 before Mr Justice Au Hing-cheung.

To save public funds, only Leung’s case will proceed and the other three applicants will be bound be the decision.

Barrister Valentine Yim See-tai, for Leung and Sin, told the High Court that the government had failed to consider reasonable alternative locations and waste disposal technology.

The government had also failed to set out in the Environmental Impact Assessment report how it came to the conclusion that the incinerator was actually needed, Yim said.

Yim said the applicants were hoping that the High Could would rule that the government should start the decision process again, but this time with alternative options.

“This is a blank proposal without any ‘meat’ in it,” Yim said. “It is really unreasonable for the director [of the Environmental Protection Department] to say there is no reasonable and practical alternative.”

He said the government had admitted in the report that a 31-hectare marine habitat of high ecological value would be lost permanently due to the project, but it omitted details about potential health risks and dangers and mitigation measures that needed to be adopted.

Yim said the government should list the worst scenarios, such as whether there would be chemical spillage in the event of an earthquake.

“We are not here to nitpick, but this is an important public health matter; we don’t want this omitted,” Yim said.

Johnny Mok SC, for the government, rejected claims that they had not considered alternative technology. He said they had discussed four methods but came to the conclusion that thermal technology was most suitable.

He also said that the government had put forward adequate mitigation measures, which meant the amount of marine habitat that would be lost had been reduced from 50 hectares to 31 hectares.

Mok said the government was not required to carry out a hazard assessment. “We are talking about simple air pollution … It’s not going to be life threatening. It’s only going to have a very limited effect.”

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