Why won't government listen to incineration alternatives?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 December, 2014, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 December, 2014, 5:45pm

As the Legislative Council's Finance Committee prepares to consider the government's proposal to build an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, I hope - as a Hong Kong taxpayer - it will ask some good, hard-hitting financial questions.

The first of these should be whether the budget is realistic. The budget increases for this unproven project have been substantial. In Lai See, Howard Winn pointed out that the capital cost of the incinerator rose from HK$18.2 billion to HK$19.2 billion between April 16 and October 17 ("Shek Kwu Chau incinerator smells even before it starts", October 31) and that in April 2012 when the Environmental Protection Department submitted the project to the environmental affairs panel, the cost was HK$14.96 billion. The final construction cost is likely to be significantly higher, but how will it be funded given the cost of other infrastructure projects?

Second, the committee should consider the negative impact on property and investment values in South Lantau and Cheung Chau. Lantau in particular is being touted as Hong Kong's next major source of income: the bridgehead to the Pearl River Delta with potential for business, conferences and tourism. But who wants to invest in a hotel overlooking an incinerator?

Who will want to hike Lantau's glorious trails or enjoy its beaches while breathing in whatever will be produced by this outdated moving grate technology, especially when similar leisure activities are a short plane ride away in Southeast Asia? One only has to walk from Mui Wo to Sunset Peak to understand this - but has anyone in the government actually bothered to do so?

Third, how about value for money? Even the department admits that about 30 per cent of what will be burnt - if the incinerator finally gets going on time in 2022 - will have to be transported to a landfill. And yet a landfill is exactly the problem it is supposed to solve.

Many times the advantages of alternatives have been laid before the government, but no one seems to listen. Plasma gasification, which is more efficient and could be arranged faster, was dismissed, unfairly, as untried. Low-cost and advanced recycling possibilities are routinely ignored.

After the political turmoil of the last few months, this is the Hong Kong government's chance to show that it can listen and think about the future: Legco can help it take that opportunity.

Amanda Whitmore Snow, Lantau