Decision on Hong Kong’s ‘last resort’ landfill, incinerator plans put on hold again

Demonstrators and lawmakers disrupt environment secretary's efforts to gain speedy approval for landfill and incinerator projects

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 1:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 8:32am

Lawmakers failed for the second time yesterday to reach a crucial vote on controversial works the government says are needed to stave off a looming waste crisis.

A meeting of a Legislative Council subcommittee studying plans to extend the Tseung Kwan O landfill and to construct an incinerator off Shek Kwu Chau was forced to a close before it reached its statutory time limit because of filibustering and protests from the audience.

The vote by the public works subcommittee was delayed last month after lawmakers ran out of time to ask questions.

Yesterday, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a strong appeal for the HK$20 billion proposals to be approved, saying they were the "last resort" to cope with the city's growing waste pile. "With just a few years before the landfills are full, do members of this council have any other alternative solutions to address the public hygiene problem?" Wong asked.

But lawmakers said conditions set out in the 13 motions tabled in the last meeting of the subcommittee must be met before approval could be granted and the funding request can go to the Legislative Council finance committee.

"We need to attach these conditions to the funding requests if they are to be handled by the Finance Committee," NeoDemocrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai, whose constituency includes Tseung Kwan O, said.

Arguments over the handling of the motions, proposed by Fan and People Power's Albert Chan Wai-yip, and then voting on those motions took up at least 30 minutes of the statutory 135 minutes allowed for subcommittee meetings.

The motions range from a ban on sending recyclable items to landfills to containing the odours from the Tseung Kwan O landfill and raising the fee for dumping construction waste there.

The landfill extension is estimated to cost HK$1.9 billion, providing an additional 6.5 million cubic metres of space.

The HK$18 billion incinerator on a reclaimed site near Shek Kwu Chau, an outlying island in waters off South Lantau, would be able to burn 3,000 tonnes of waste a day, according to the government.

Yesterday, each motion had to be voted on separately and was preceded by a five-minute ringing of bells to remind lawmakers to return to their seats.

But the length of the bell-ringing was shortened to one minute after members passed a motion to this effect raised by lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

As the subcommittee was voting on the 10th motion, eight minutes before deadline, the audience - mostly Tseung Kwan O residents who had been warned repeatedly to remain silent during the meeting - became more disruptive.

Subcommittee chairman Lo Wai-kwok then decided to adjourn the meeting until Tuesday.

Wong said his proposals - including other landfill extensions in Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling - were not only indispensable but the only solutions.

Last year, the subcommittee supported the HK$35 million funding for a feasibility study of the Tuen Mun extension and approved HK$9 billion funding for the Ta Kwu Ling extension.

Both have yet to be approved by the Finance Committee.

The government intends to table requests for the final funding for the Tuen Mun study and the Ta Kwu Ling extension together with funding requests for the two projects discussed yesterday.