Concrete action needed on illegal dumping in New Territories

Waste dumping and illegal landfill have long been a blight on the landscape and development of the New Territories. Ombudsman Connie Lau Lin-hing’s decision to investigate the actions of government departments ultimately depends on whether officials merely pay her report lip service.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2016, 1:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2016, 1:21am

Waste dumping and illegal landfill have long been a blight on the landscape and development of the New Territories. Divided government responsibilities, bureaucratic overlap and official inertia have defied efforts and calls to curb it. But they have not deterred Ombudsman Connie Lau Lin-hing, who says she will launch an investigation into the actions of the environmental protection, planning and conservation departments, which had been “criticised as futile and ineffective by different sectors of the community”.

She is referring to a history of illegal dumping under the so-called “destroy now, build later” strategy of development, 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.

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The watchdog’s probe is amid reports of increased frequency of dumping and fly-tipping in the territories which exploits loopholes in planning and waste disposal regulations. Lau says it will focus on the responsibilities and powers of officials, including enforcement action and outcomes, in a bid to identify inadequacies and suggest remedies.

She will encounter the relative impunity of culprits in the face of derisory penalties for quite serious violations. Consulting the public and people affected until December 16 is a good start. Green groups will raise their concerns about private land, such as old farm lots within country parks, being filled or despoiled with dumping under “destroy first, build later” tactics.

Lau is investigating on her own initiative where officials have made little progress over the years. She can be expected to recommend regulatory changes that would close loopholes and make enforcement effective. The departments facing investigation have said they will cooperate fully. Ultimately it depends on whether officials merely pay her report lip service, or respond with concrete action.