Lawmakers have given initial approval to a government funding request for the city's first organic waste treatment plant, on northern Lantau, despite a tripling of the budget.
Members of the Legislative Council's panel on environmental affairs raised concerns about the sharp rise in the estimated cost, from HK$489 million to more than HK$1.5 billion, but still believed the planned Siu Ho Wan facility was essential.
"The government must admit it might have underestimated the costs as officials might not have a deep understanding of the facility. But the money is still worth spending," engineering-sector lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok told a special meeting yesterday.
Helena Wong Pik-wan from the Democratic Party, Elizabeth Quat of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Liberal Party's Frankie Yick Chi-ming and the Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok also said they supported the funding in principle.
The only panel member opposed to the facility was Albert Chan Wai-yip, of People Power.
Chan was absent but objected to the proposed location in a written submission. He was also unhappy about the government's failure to encourage people to separate their waste at source.
Siu Ho Wan already houses treatment works for sewage and for drinking water. The new plant, slated to open in 2016, will handle up to 200 tonnes of food waste daily, cutting by about five per cent the 3,600 tonnes of organic trash dumped in landfills.
After the environmental affairs panel, the government must now seek approval from the public works subcommittee. The final say lies with the Legco Finance Committee.
The Environmental Protection Department attributed about one-third of the budget rise to higher construction costs, and another one-third to extra efforts to mitigate the plant's impact on the environment.
The rest would go into extra facilities such as those that screened the waste before it reached the plant, assistant director Elvis Au Wai-kong said.
"We have tried to lower the cost as far as possible," he said. "But we still believe this centralised facility will be cost-effective."
The plant would handle business waste first, because it was easier for "professional kitchens" to sort out food waste, undersecretary for the environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said.
She said officials would look at how best to collect and transport rubbish to minimise the effects on the environment.
Loh declined to comment on how they intended to make polluters pay to help cover the building and operating costs of the plant. Au said charging for waste sent to the plant would be considered as part of a wider move to introduce waste charging.