Protesters fighting Tolo Harbour beach marching against the tide
Making waves against Tolo Harbour beach at such a late stage seems unlikely to bring results
The battle to stop the construction of an artificial beach on Tolo Harbour escalated into a mass protest outside government headquarters yesterday.
It is not difficult to understand why protesters took to the streets. Not only has their demand to halt Lung Mei's man-made beach plan fallen on deaf ears, but hopes to settle the dispute through established channels and processes are looking increasingly dim.
The protest also came after Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday questioned why the project had drawn little opposition until recently.
She questioned whether environmentalists' claims must be given priority.
But let's get the facts right first.
Contrary to what Lam suggested, the dispute actually dates back to 2008 when nature lovers, including members of Hong Kong Wildlife.Net and other green groups, challenged what they described as a flawed environmental impact assessment of the area.
In a rare but amazingly executed operation, the environmentalists organised volunteers to carry out field surveys to prove the beach site was home to far more marine species than the study had indicated.
Despite the serious challenge, the study was approved by the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Environment with a vote of six to five.
The Environmental Protection Department then granted a work permit in November 2008.
The endorsement angered the project's opponents, who had harboured high hopes that the council would black it. But as they vented anger towards council members who refused to veto it, they also let slip a golden opportunity to challenge the permit with a judicial review.
A judicial review should have been launched within 90 days of the permit being issued. It is unclear why the activists did not take legal action at that time.
With the tender process for construction now under way, the opponents are considering seeking a judicial review, but it is highly uncertain if the court will grant an exemption to the three-month rule.
Another missed window of opportunity to resolve the differences was when the government sought HK$200 million in project funding from the Legislative Council.
On July 13, a few days after the chief executive dropped a controversial idea to restructure the government because of legislators' filibustering, the Legco Finance Committee, burdened with plenty of unfinished business before its session ended in July, rushed to endorse the funding.
Unsurprisingly, pro-establishment lawmakers, including those with a strong affiliation to rural leaders in Tai Po and small-house developers in the New Territories, did not hesitate to support it.
The surprise was that some pan-democrat lawmakers did not put up a serious fight against the project.
Apparently they did not recognise the urgency or seriousness of the situation. Some, including people who later lost their seats in the September election, focused only on traffic or water-quality issues.
None of them queried whether there was really a need for the beach and whether other sites had been studied.
Given the current state of the government and its lack of public support, it will be interesting to see whether yesterday's protest makes any difference - even at this late stage - to the Lung Mei project.