Hong Kong is a loud city. Recognising as much, and that noise pollution can lead to hearing loss, mental stress and irritation, the government set up the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in 1986, in part to help protect us. But are the authorities doing all they can?
When it comes to one of noise pollution’s worst offenders – the construction industry – sadly, the answer is no. On its website, the EPD is honest enough to admit that builders “tend to treat fines for noise offences as a cost of doing business”.
I recently found this out first hand.
There is a construction site next to my home and having put up with drilling most of Sunday, when the work continued on Monday – a public holiday – I (like my one-year-old baby) decided enough was enough. I videoed the site as evidence and headed over to complain.
When I eventually located the site manager, she told me I was lying and that no one was making noise. On showing her the video and asking if she had a permit to build on a public holiday she promptly ran away. I called the police. The officers were not very interested but after viewing the video footage and ferreting out the site manager they issued a warning to the construction company.
The police having elected not to use their powers of prosecution, when I asked why they had not checked their records for previous infringements by the company, they told me they had no means of doing so; records are not shared between police departments. So, I inquired, was it possible that a construction firm could break noise pollution laws and be issued with verbal warnings in multiple neighbourhoods across Hong Kong without ever receiving a more severe penalty? The police admitted this was possible.
I contacted the EPD to follow up. They sidestepped questions regarding police access to records of construction noise offences, instead informing me that they had visited the site in question over the days following my complaint, at 00.20 and 00.39, only to discover no breach of the law …
Hang on, 00.20 and 00.39? Really? Would not 8pm or 6am have been more appropriate? The department did redirect me to the government’s Access to Information website. Another dead end of obfuscating replies – the operators of that site don’t provide information outside their usual course of business.
If I get caught speeding, the police will rightly search the records for previous offences and, if I am a repeat infringer, I will be subject to a harsher penalty. Why is the same not true for construction companies breaking noise laws?