Dirty work - not in my back yard, please

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong needs to build a trash incinerator to take the pressure off its landfills. The question is who wants it in their neighbourhood?

People who live in the vicinity of the trash burner will obviously be concerned about how it affects their air and water - and the community in general. Almost every major metropolitan city in the world has citizens' groups protesting Locally Unwanted Land Use (Lulu).

The public backlash to developments everyone needs but nobody wants to live next to was termed Nimby by British Secretary of State for the Environment Nicholas Ridley in 1980. The term stands for 'Not in My Back Yard'

'Nimbyism' and opposition to Lulus have become more commonplace since the development of the internet, which makes organising protests against projects easier. The problem is especially acute in Hong Kong, where only 22 per cent of the region's 1,104 sq km of land is fit for development and there is rising demand for power plants, disposal sites and institutions for prisoners and the sick.

While an incinerator does not make for the best neighbour, the city as a whole needs one, so the debate is about how a civil society should decide where it is built.

Julia Tao Lai Po-wah, a professor at City University of Hong Kong's department of public and social administration, said: 'One of the main concerns in Hong Kong is 'why me all the time'. In Hong Kong, most of the Lulus are concentrated in certain areas and it seems the same communities are forced to accept projects they don't want.'

She said residents were concerned about Lulus' effect on property values, the community's self-image and environmental and health issues.

Although some residents can be bought off with compensation offers, Tao said there were other cases where people were not willing to compromise.

'There has to be a system for looking at the whole situation to make sure we're not putting everything we don't want in one or two spots, which leads to resentment. The crux of the matter is ethics,' she said.

Tuen Mun is already home to a high proportion of Lulus, including two power stations, half the city's major psychiatric hospitals, one of three landfills, an aviation fuel depot, a steel plant and large waste recycling plant.

City planners say the dirty industries are situated in Tuen Mun because the area is downwind of the city.

In a 2007 survey of 752 residents about Lulus conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, about 80 per cent of respondents said public consultations were inadequate.

About 27 per cent said they had no faith in their District Council to handle Lulu-related matters.

Lam Kin-che, a professor at CUHK's department of geography and resource management, said the location of a half a dozen Lulus has undermined residents' trust in the government.

He said current government consultations need to be changed to give the public more say in how projects take shape. Making a community a part of the process or a stakeholder is not impossible, and such an approach made it easier for South Korea to find a location for its biggest landfill.

The community that lives close to the Sudokwon Landfill receives about 10 per cent of its tipping fees, and the money goes towards community projects.

Lam said such an approach would help dispel the image of Tuen Mun
as the city's dumping ground for projects that nobody else wanted.

He added that enhancing such things as transport links and community facilities would 'counteract the labelling effect' which dogged the area.