Environment takes priority over property rights, Hong Kong court told in waste dumping challenge

Former Clear the Air leader questions decision to allow concrete to be deposited at four sites near Pui O wetlands

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 8:22pm

The protection of the environment should take precedence over private property rights, a barrister arguing against a decision to allow construction waste to be dumped on the wetlands of South Lantau told the High Court on Tuesday.

Stewart Wong Kai-ming SC, for Mui Wo resident Christian Masset, said there was a gap in waste disposal laws that had to be plugged.

But the director of environmental protection argued that the authorities should be cautious about introducing measures not stipulated in the law even though the protection of the environment was a “laudable aim”.

The environment regulator was responding to the legal challenge mounted by Masset, a former chairman of green group Clear the Air, against the department’s decisions to allow construction waste to be dumped at four sites near the wetlands at Pui O between 2014 and this year.

The sites are on the fringe of the wetlands between Ham Tin San Tsuen and Pui O beach, which are zoned for coastal protection but with an awkward patchwork of private, corporate and government ownership.

Wong said the dumping of concrete on the coastal protected areas was harmful to the environment, with birds, buffaloes and the natural habitat in the vicinity all being affected.

He argued that the environmental protection chief, once he was approached by a property owner, would acknowledge the request and give permission, but environmental considerations would not be taken into account in making a decision.

The public interest is at stake
Stewart Wong Kai-ming SC

The Waste Disposal Ordinance, which prohibits unauthorised disposal of waste, should be interpreted liberally to cover the dumping in question and achieve the purpose of protecting the environment, Wong said.

The lawyer said the matter went beyond private property rights and the authorities should take preventive measures to stop continued disposal.

“The public interest is at stake,” Wong said.

But Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, for the department, said the existing law prohibiting the unlawful depositing of waste could not apply to the present case, in which permission had been given to dumpers with the site owners’ consent.

The environment regulator had to prove there was lack of consent before such dumping could be stopped, Shieh said.

Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung reserved judgment for a later date.