Urban planning

Clear rules needed to stop illegal dumping

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 June, 2010, 12:00am

With buck-passing between different authorities all too often the official response to illegal dumping and other land and development abuses in the New Territories, it is hard to feel sorry for the government when it is caught in a bureaucratic bind of its own making.

Three years ago, the Development Bureau was formed to co-ordinate the work of agencies such as the Buildings and Lands departments and the Town Planning Board. We were among those who welcomed it at the time as a sensible approach to overlapping authority, amid conflicts over planning, environmental and conservation issues. But we reckoned without the brazen sense of entitlement of traditional land owners in the New Territories.

There are never-ending incidences of illegal dumping under the so-called destroy now, build later practice, failure to comply with orders to restore land to its original state, and unauthorised development and retrospective approval for illegal work from one agency while another has ordered it removed.

In the case in point, the agencies named agree that a warehouse nearing completion on land defaced by dumping and owned by an influential clan is not authorised. One, the Buildings Department, says it will pull it down, but not if Lands rules it can stay, which it is now considering. Meanwhile, Town Planning is yet to hear an application for approval of the 6,000 sq ft structure filed only recently. The dumping in this instance was not illegal because the land was zoned for open storage. But the confusing red tape gives the government the opportunity to clarify overlapping policy areas.

For a start, it would be good to know what is really government policy. Is it to allow villagers to build on land, even when illegally dumped on? Is development in the New territories an overriding priority, or is it protecting the environment and ensuring compliance with the law? For the sake of orderly planning and development of the city's remaining area for expansion, the government should strive to strike a sensible balance under a clear set of rules that can - and will - be enforced.