When I last wrote on 1 May, the Judicial Review proceedings had a date fixed of 7 June for the judge to hear argument as to whether leave should be granted for the JR to proceed.
You may have already learned from today’s media that at yesterday’s hearing the judge granted leave and fixed dates for a 3 day hearing from 14 to 16 November.
The judge said he only wanted to hear one of the cases, because the issues seemed to him to be essentially the same for each of the four applicants.
The case that will go forward is in the name of Leung Hon Wai (who lives on Cheung Chau), represented by Valentine Yim of counsel instructed by Lee Chan Cheng, solicitors
The other applicants include Mr Kwok Cheuk Kin and Mr Sin Chi Man (who also live on Cheung Chau) and Ms Loy Ho (who lives on Lantau and is chair of the Lantau Buffalo Association).
The judge is Mr Thomas Au.
I won’t go into all the arguments for and against the JR. Many are highly technical and/or turn around specific issues of Hong Kong legislation and underpinning administrative law principles.
The crucial points to bear in mind are:
- a JR cannot change government policy. It can at best overrule a government decision as improperly made. So, if the government is determined for the incinerator project to go ahead, this JR, even if successful, merely slows things down.
- at the heart of this JR is an attack on the Environmental Impact Assessment for non-compliance with essential requirements.
- alongside this is an attack on the decision by the Town Planning Board to approve the Outline Zoning Plan for Shek Kwu Chau (as a conservation area alongside a 3K tpd mass burn incinerator on an island 10 metres offshore) which in the view of many (myself included) is irrational to the point of schizophrenia.
- if the JR succeeds, the government can carry out a further EIA which does comply with essential requirements, and it can re-affirm the Outline Zoning Plan in ways which unambigously show there has been a change of government policy towards the conservation status of islands offshore South Lantau.
- the campaign to stop the incinerator therefore won’t be won by the JR alone. It has to be won politically, through continuing pressure on the government to consider and adopt alternative ways and means of addressing Hong Kong’s waste management.
In other words, whilst the JR is running, it seems unlikely Hong Kong’s administration will seek to re-introduce the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator proposal. However, the campaign is far from won until the incoming executive declares an alternative policy.
Leaving the JR aside, C.Y. Leung has now announced his ‘cabinet’ to include Mr Kam Sing Wong as the new Secretary for Environmental Affairs, succeeding Edward Yau. K.S. Wong is currently practicing as an architect in Hong Kong. He is chairman of the Professional Green Building Society and vice-chair of the HK Institute of Architects. Friends of the Earth consider him eco-friendly. Like the rest of the cabinet, he will assume his new post from 1 July.
Edward Yau, the current Environment Secretary, may be repositioned as Director of the Chief Executive’s Office in which capacity he may continue to exert significant influence.
Thanks to all who wrote to the Lands Department. I was forwarded a fair few of the Lands Department’s standard email response saying they were forwarding everything to the Environment Protection Department. Their way of saying ‘not in my back (or front) yard’.
It is worth noting also that Shenzhen, which already operates 7 incinerators with capacity to process 4,875 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste per day, plans by 2015 to have an additional 3 incinerators, processing up to 6,300 tonnes per day – bringing Shenzhen’s total incinerator capacity to 11,175 tonnes per day. (This was not mentioned in the Environmental Impact Assessment for the SKC incinerator, which seems a bit of an oversight.)
So, whatever the outcome of the current SKC incinerator proposal, there is a broader cross-border battle to be fought to clear Hong Kong’s air for the future.
The following report (see http://ipetitions.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c5c0d97bafca87481521cc451&id=66c7ab073c&e=618217fe57 – also reported in the Straits Times) came in earlier this week on one of Singapore’s 3 incinerators:
SINGAPORE – An incinerator at a waste management plant in Tuas caught fire early Sunday morning. According to witness statements, three loud bangs were heard before flames were sighted.
An eyewitness told the Straits Times that technicians on duty were transporting oil sludge into a funnel leading to the incinerator when they heard the three loud explosive bangs, followed by the flames.
The technicians then sounded the alarm and left the control room, which reportedly caught fire just seconds later.
The roof also partially collapsed, reported the English daily.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said they were alerted to the fire at around 12.50am at Eco SWM, in Tuas. Deploying three fire engines, SCDF officers put out the fire within 30 minutes of their arrival.
A SCDF spokesperson said that all 25 employees who were onsite when the incident happened are accounted for. No injuries have been reported.
No doubt the Hong Kong administration will say this proves just how safe these modern incinerators are.