Islanders' bid to halt Shek Kwu Chau incinerator fails
Court throws out all arguments of challenge to plan to build a HK$15b waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau near dolphin habitat
Austin Chiu and Ada Lee
A Cheung Chau resident yesterday lost his legal battle to stop the government building a massive offshore waste incinerator on an island south of Lantau.
Leung Hon-wai objected to the proposed HK$15 billion incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, which is near an important marine habitat for finless porpoises. He claimed the environmental impact assessment conducted for the project was flawed.
He saw all eight challenges he mounted dismissed by the Court of First Instance and vowed to take the challenge further.
"We will definitely file an appeal. It's not surprising that we lost," said Leung, 66, who took the case to court on behalf of Cheung Chau residents. "Our grounds are reasonable. We ought to fight for justice."
Leung said he opposed the construction of the incinerator because the government had not done enough to mitigate potential respiratory problems arising from the operations of the giant burner.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said the court's decision reaffirmed the objectiveness and transparency of the impact report, which was filed by the Environmental Protection Department.
The government would retable the project in the Legislative Council "at a suitable time", Wong said.
The proposal was presented to Legco in April last year, but the environmental affairs panel decided, amid public opposition, not to endorse it.
Wong declined to give an estimate on how much the projected costs had risen since then, but appealed for public support as an incinerator could take as long as eight years to build.
"Any further delay will not benefit Hong Kong's long-term development," he said.
Friends of the Earth advised against retabling the incinerator plan too soon. Instead, the government should seek to build public trust with its efforts to reduce and recycle waste, the environmental group said.
Leung's lawyers argued that the impact report failed to meet the requirements of a technical memorandum and a study brief from the government.
In part because of that, the department should not have granted the project an environmental permit, nor should the Town Planning Board have submitted a draft plan on the zoning of Shek Kwu Chau to the Chief Executive in Council, Leung said.
Dismissing the arguments, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung said off-site mitigation measures proposed in the impact report met requirements.
The judge pointed to the government's proposal to designate 700 hectares for a marine park - where no further developments would be allowed without prior approval - that would meet the requirement to offset a permanent loss of 31 hectares of marine habitat due to the project.
On Leung's challenge that the impact report failed to take into account a certain amount of persistent organic pollution and very fine particles, the judge said it was up to the "professional judgment" of the department to decide what to include in the report since there were no specific requirements.
Au also threw out Leung's position that it was wrong for the director of environmental protection to compile the impact report, approve it and grant the permit. The judge said the different tasks had in fact been done by the director's subordinates, who were properly separated.
The judge ordered Leung, who brought the case using legal aid, to pay costs.