Environmentalists have warned that the latest blueprint for developing Lantau might lead to illegal waste dumps in areas of precious wetland and on protected coastlines.
The Development Bureau released its blueprint last Saturday with the aim of transforming the 147 sq km island into a commercial and tourism hub with a population of one million after 2030 – a ninefold increase from the current population of 110,000.
Major housing and economic developments are planned for northern and eastern parts, while the south and west will be preserved – with new recreational and tourism facilities.
Roy Ng Hei-man, a campaigner for environmental group Conservancy Association told Young Post that some areas of wetland and protected coastline didn’t have development permission area plans (DPAP), which are plans designed to regulate development on agricultural land in the New Territories.
The government has refused to extend these area plans to places like Pui O, saying they are covered by outline zoning plans, which cover most of the urban areas and city outskirts, as well as outlying islands.
“Without the DPAP, there will be more illegal dumping of waste, because developers and waste trucks don’t want to pay a landfill ‘gate fee’,” Ng said. “The Tseung Kwan O landfill is so far away [from Lantau], so vehicles might simply choose to dump their waste in areas near the construction sites.”
Ng added that there had already been changes made to the wetlands under development pressure. One example, Ng said, was an application made to the Town Planning Board last month, to develop a 5,000 sq metre holiday camp for caravans and tents in Pui O’s protected area.
Ng said the proposed site, which used to be wetland, has already been damaged by the owner through dry farming, which is incompatible with wetland ecosystems. This wouldn’t have been allowed under the DPAP, but there’s nothing in the outline zoning plans that specifically says owners must be charged or prosecuted for damaging or degrading privately owned agricultural land without structures on it.
There are also areas in New Territories that have been turned into illegal dump sites. Ming Pao, a Chinese language newspaper, reported there are many “waste hills” in Tai Kei Leng Village in Yuen Long. These hills occupy roughly 3000 sq metres of farmland.
Ng said the government needs to close the legal loophole allowing private owners to damage ecologically valuable sites – even in protected zones – so that they can apply for future land use changes.
“Plugging that loophole up is so important,” agreed Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, WWF Hong Kong’s wetlands conservation director.
“With more construction set to be done in north Lantau, it’s highly likely that some of the construction waste will be dumped [in the south],” Lau said. “We need to ban dump trucks carrying waste from entering south Lantau and we need more patrols and enforcement.”
The government states in the blueprint that it will explore measures to combat waste dumping and conserve wetland areas. As of yet, there have been no further explanation on what this means.