Tseung Kwan O landfill plan withdrawn amid opposition
Climbdown on plan to expand Tseung Kwan O dump presages more fights over how to deal with city’s growing rubbish pile
Hong Kong is on the verge of a deeper waste crisis after the environment minster bowed to political pressure and temporarily withdrew a plan to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill, which the government had previously described as essential.
Wong Kam-sing, secretary for the environment, announced the climbdown yesterday after the biggest political party, the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), refused to support the controversial plan.
The government has been working for 10 years on a proposal to expand the city's three landfills - the others are in Tuen Mun and at Ta Kwu Ling.
At the start of a meeting of the Legislative Council's public works subcommittee, Wong said: "We are disappointed that we cannot secure enough votes, but we still believe all three landfill extension plans are necessary."
The meeting ran out of time to vote on the HK$7 billion extension to the Ta Kwu Ling dump and a HK$35 million feasibility study for an extension of the Tuen Mun landfill.
Afterwards, Wong vowed to resubmit plans for the other two dumps before the legislature's summer recess in mid-July, but he did not say when the Tseung Kwan O plan would be revived.
The government has said the extensions are needed to avoid a waste crisis before a planned incinerator - also mired in controversy - is completed in 2023.
Wong refused to be drawn on whether he had any contingency plan. But he pledged to press ahead with measures to improve hygiene at the Tseung Kwan O tip - a pre-condition for the DAB to consider supporting the plan.
Wong has warned that without the extensions, the Tseung Kwan O dump will be full by 2015, Ta Kwu Ling will reach capacity by 2017 and Tuen Mun will be bursting at the seams by 2019 .
The rubbish-collection industry has said that after the Tseung Kwan O landfill's closure, all waste will be diverted to the other two landfills, which could increase transport costs.
The withdrawal of the Tseung Kwan O plan was cautiously welcomed by residents.
The climbdown has already cost Wong at least one supporting vote, from Michael Tien Puk-sun of the New People's Party, who now says he will vote against all three of the plans when they return to the subcommittee.
"I could have reluctantly supported the plans on the basis of shared responsibility," he said. "But in such a political climate, whoever makes the most noise or goes on hunger strikes gets what they want. This is unfair to the other two districts [Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling]."
Democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing, whose New Territories East constituency includes Tseung Kwan O, said lawmakers were not merely defending "narrow" district interests, as suggested in a joint statement signed by a group of academics earlier. She asked: "Who are these academics and university professors? Don't they know people are suffering because of landfills?"
Professor Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, one of the academics, said they were primarily concerned about the overall interests of the city and were independent of politics.