Concern over green priorities

THE Environmental Protection Department (EPD) will get a massive budget increase, mostly for waste disposal, but observers fear other areas such as air and noise pollution are not getting their fair share.

The EPD will get $933.4 million for 1993-94, up 52.5 per cent from the $612 million it received in the current year.

Waste disposal will receive $727.7 million, or 78 per cent, of the allocation, indicating the heavy workload ahead as new landfills are set up and a new chemical waste treatment plant starts operating in April.

The overall budget rise was generally welcomed by legislators and green groups, but there was concern about the EPD's priorities.

Legislator Reverend Fung Chi-wood, who is the United Democrats' spokesman on the environment, worried that too little was being spent on noise and air pollution.

The noise control budget went up 13.6 per cent to $27.6 million, while the air quality budget increased 6.9 per cent to $66.6 million.

''On the whole there is an increase in real terms and I think that's good progress, but I'm still not satisfied on noise and air,'' he said.

''The EPD gets a lot of complaints on them but there's not enough staff to monitor the problems and enforce the laws.'' Of 1,651 complaints on air pollution received last year, there is a backlog of 81 and the situation is not predicted to improve this year. For noise, 2,729 complaints were received, with a backlog of 28, and the situation is expected to remain static this year.

The Conservancy Association's spokesman, Mr Gordon Ng Ting-leung, also said too much money was being spent on solid waste in comparison to reducing smog from vehicles, controlling air pollution and addressing other areas that affect people's health.

But planning and environment expert Dr Peter Hills, of Hongkong University, said the big increase in waste spending reflected the seriousness of the problem and should not be interpreted as being entirely at the expense of other pollution areas.

''Water pollution received only a 6.5 per cent increase [to $92.9 million], but that doesn't tell the whole issue because capital works fall under other headings in other departments,'' he said.

The Drainage Services Department, which oversees sewerage contracts and improvement works, will receive $536.6 million, up 11.7 per cent.

Dr Hills also was encouraged to see an extra 158 staff being added to the department and felt this should improve enforcement and make the EPD more effective.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Mr Henry Morritt questioned the emphasis on pollution control rather than protecting the environment from further destruction.

The Planning, Environment and Lands Branch and the Works Branch, which help formulate environment policies and co-ordinate works related to the issue, received a 14.3 per cent increase to $175.4 million.

The Conservancy Association spokesman, Mr Gordon Ng Ting-leung, said the charges could end up being just another revenue-raising measure.

''We would not want another charging scheme to build facilities, like the sewage charges. We don't want to see another tax on people and it shouldn't have an inflationary effect,'' he said.