Monday, 12 January 2009
Story of Tai She Wan 大蛇灣的故事
Hong Kong has some of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world.
The GOOD NEWS is that people are beginning to discover it. Click here for a recent story in UK's Guardian newspaper.
The BAD NEWS is that there are many examples of despoliation in our countryside, in areas that are out of sight of the rule of law. The above presentation shows a particularly bad example: of how a famous beauty spot has been trashed, not once, but twice – hold your nose, you will be shocked.
As the urbanisation of the Pearl River Delta continues apace, the wilderness areas of Hong Kong are acquiring incalculable value. Owners of private land in these areas are sitting on a potential gold mine. But few understand how their property can be sensitively developed into profitable venues for tourists or visitors, or have the capital to do it. Furthermore, they are hampered by zoning and lease restrictions and lack of appropriate infrastructure such as sewage treatment. Government policy changes are required to promote sensitive development and use of these rural assets, rather than the current situation of dilapidation or “unlicensed” developments. These sites are not appropriate for large-scale resort projects, nor will they make much headway as cheap overnight stays amid trashed villages. This is an area that merits greater attention by the Tourism Commission.
p.s. Below is text from the email exchange from the above slides:
Dear [ ],
Please see attached some photos which I took at Tai She Wan on High Island. The “developer” is “restoring” some derelict buildings for tourism use. Last weekend, he had begun to dump the construction waste onto the beach in front of the site. Both dumping grounds are on government land.
Please advise whether this is a matter for EPD or Lands Department. If the latter, please give the name and e-mail of the person to contact.
With best regards,
Thank you for your email concerning dumping of construction waste at Tai She Wan, Sai Kung.
Our staff has conducted a site visit to Tai She Wan yesterday morning and found piles of waste, one being the broken furniture and domestic waste as shown in your picture and other piles of construction waste closer to the houses under renovation. According to the contractor for the renovation project, internal renovation work for a few houses is being carried out and the renovation work is anticipated to be completed in June 2006. The contractor denied that they dumped the waste as shown in your picture and said it was already there before the renovation work commenced. The contractor claimed that they had produced some waste but these were put nearer the houses. Those are mainly construction material and they would use most of it to reclaim the land/ slope in front of the houses.
Nevertheless, the contractor has agreed to remove all the wastes, including those they claimed they were not responsible for. Since it has to be done by boat, it would take some time to arrange, that is after the Easter holiday.
Meantime, our staff have also advised the contractor to observe the various requirements under our environmental legislations, e.g. properly cover any dusty materials and water-spray all dusty material prior to any loading, unloading or transfer operation, not to use powered mechanical equipment during restricted hours (i.e. 7pm-7am of next day and public holiday) etc.
Thank very much for bringing this to my attention and your concern on environmental matters.
Dear [ ], thank you for following this up.
Please note that I am very familiar with this site and am there almost every weekend through the winter months. I can confirm that the waste as shown in my photos appeared only AFTER the renovation work commenced. The waste consists not only of material ripped out of the buildings but also of a large number of trees chopped down from around the site. It is clear even from my photos that the contractor has built a kind of temporary wheelbarrow “pier” to gain access into the dumping ground.
I’m not sure that the environmental legislation that you refer to (water spraying of dusty material... use of mechanical equipment during restricted hours...) is very appropriate for this site, which is uninhabited and very remote from any habitation! However, it seems that other possible breaches of legislation are being ignored: apart from the waste dumped in this site and on the beach on the other side of the pier, the whole site is covered with litter from the workers: discarded plastic bottles and lunch boxes etc. Please advise whether there are any grounds for action against the contractor or the landowner under any law or regulation and whether you or any other department will take action against the contractor. Note that much of this dumping and littering is taking place on Government land.
I hope that your department will follow up to check on the process of removal of the construction waste, to ensure that there will not be “spillage” into the bay itself, which has many corals and rich marine life. The waters around the site are very shallow and the contractor must ensure that any barges will not damage corals or seabed marine life near to the site. Finally, I would like to know WHERE this waste will be brought too: I very much hope it will not be dumped at sea...
Illegal disposal of waste is controlled under the Waste Disposal Ordinance which is enforced by EPD. In order for us to take prosecution action, we need to catch the contractor red-handed, i.e. during the act of disposal. This is the most difficult part. Alternatively, we can rely on witnesses who saw the act of disposal and be able to recognise the person who carried out such act. I don't know if you had in fact witnessed the disposal operation. If so, please let me have the details.
Other departments may have provisions in their laws to tackle this problem but again it requires identifying who is the culprit and be able to justify such beyond reasonable doubt in the court. As this case involves depositing waste on government land, we have alerted the District Land Office to see if there is any action they can take.
We do share the same concern that you have about nice country side being abused by irresponsible renovation contractors and would very much like to take legal action against them. However, we are bound by the provisions of the law. We will visit the site again to show our presence and send them the message that "we are watching", as well as to see if the disposed waste has been cleared.
Dear [ ],
I would like to clarify whether breach of the Waste Disposal Ordinance is a civil offence or criminal offence. If criminal, the standard of proof is “beyond reasonable doubt” but if a civil offence the burden of proof is “on balance of probabilities” which is a much lower standard. In this case I think it would be an easy case to mount since the SOURCE of the construction waste is unlikely to have come from anywhere else – there is only a single development in that remote area; also, there are many witnesses to the fact that the dumping only appeared AFTER the developer started his construction works.
I would be very disappointed indeed if there is NO ordinance under which action can be taken in such a clear and egregious case: that would say very little about our standard of environmental protection in Hong Kong.
As the EPD, I think it is incumbent on you to FIND a way to prosecute and send a signal to the community that such actions are NOT tolerated.
We fully understand your concern. As pointed out in my previous message, we would like to be able to bring all offenders to court to show deterrent effect, but we are bound by the legislative provisions.
With respect to your specific question, all offences under the WDO are criminal offences. Please note that the HK legal system follows that of UK and in fact all offences under HK legislations are criminal offences although one may argue that some offences (murder, drug trafficking) are more criminal than the others.
I would also like to report that the waste shown in your photo has now been removed. Only some recyclable construction materials are left near the house and the contractor is working with Lands Dept to see how these useful materials could be used on site.
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