The last Labour Department inspection of an illegal concrete plant in Yau Tong was 18 months ago, according to the government, with officials now struggling to explain how the huge dockside plant has operated for nine months without even holding a licence.
China Concrete’s plant at 22 Tung Yuen Street was stripped of its operating licence in April 2021, with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) finding “malpractice” in its operation amidst hundreds of noise, pollution and nuisance complaints by residents and the Kwun Tong District Council.
Under a quirk of Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Control Ordinance, the plant was allowed to continue operations for another eight months while it appealed the licence revocation but when the appeal was dismissed in January 2022 the plant was ordered to be closed.
Yet business still appears brisk, despite China Concrete’s promises – made in the face of a temporary High Court injunction in April this year – that it would reign in “nuisance” behaviour and all concrete-related activities.
The issue was reignited by a fatal workplace incident at the neighbouring concrete plant, also associated with China Concrete, at 20 Tung Yuen Street, where a China Concrete cement truck driver ran over and killed a 63-year-old worker at the plant gate on Friday 14 October.
A visit to Tung Yuen Street the next day revealed a lawless zone more reminiscent of the Kings Roman Chinese gangster enclave in Laos than the thriving Hong Kong seaside district put forward by the then-Planning Department in 2002.
The streets and signs were swathed in coarse dust, mud and debris from the two concrete plants and several huge residential construction projects. Pavements were either non-existent or piled high with construction materials, while a constant stream of cement trucks and chemical tankers barrelled along the road at high speed.
The two concrete plants extended well beyond their boundaries, with chemicals and foam spilling from their silos and broken equipment cluttering the wharf area.
The appalling state of the Tung Yuen Street block is nothing new, and the death of a worker should surprise no-one.
Indeed, Kwun Tong District Council set up a dedicated Working Group to tackle the issue of China Concrete’s nuisance in 2020, but government officials refused to attend the meetings, instead sending letters pledging to clear up the situation – the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), for example, said it would work with the police to clamp down on leaking cement trucks.
“If any material such as mud is found to be left on the road, we will report to the person concerned and prosecute,” said FEHD in a written response to the Working Group. No such prosecutions have been recorded.
Meanwhile the Development Bureau told the Working Group it was working to move the Yau Tong concrete industry wholesale out to Tseung Kwan O’s “Area 137”.
Nothing happened to that idea, although Area 137, the government’s Xanadu for dozens of Not-In-My-Back-Yard waste and industrial projects, was actually revived in Chief Executive John Lee’s maiden Policy Address yesterday.
But Sai Kung District Council has long fought the Area 137 proposal, claiming the area around LOHAS Park is already blighted with “thousands of dump trucks brought in by landfills and fill depots” and with sand and dust breaching air pollution limits daily. The District Council says the EPD should do its job and shut down the plants rather than simply moving the problem to their district.
For its part, EPD says it has visited the 22 Tung Yuen Street plant “numerous times” since revoking China Concrete’s licence and, since losing its case for an injunction against the plant in April this year, says it is now gathering evidence for prosecuting the plant for operating without a licence. It has also revoked the licence for the 20 Tung Yuen Street plant, although that revocation is still under appeal and the plant may continue polluting while the legal process lumbers along.
China Concrete is unrepentant: after quashing EPD’s injunction for its 22 Tung Yuen Street site, its lawyers filed a judicial review against EPD’s decision to revoke the firm’s licence (even after losing an appeal against that decision), claiming the firm was being unfairly targeted by “politics” and that the tighter standards demanded by EPD were “vague and uncertain”.
But a lawyer with links to the Department of Justice said EPD had simply “not done the work required” to have the offending plants properly shut down under an injunction, and questioned why the environmental prosecutions had moved so slowly.
EPD did not respond to follow-up questions on its prosecution progress.
In a twist to the tale, Transit Jam learned that Patrick To Shu-fai, chairman of China Concrete’s holding company Man Fai Tai, has been appointed Honorary Consul to the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping a black Rolls-Royce with diplomatic tags at his 7,000 sq ft Kowloon Tong mansion.
Honorary consuls may enjoy some diplomatic privileges, including use of a diplomatic pouch and protections for their “consulates”, in some jurisdictions.
EPD has not responded to questions on whether To applied for any diplomatic immunity in his dealings with authorities or whether this appointment might explain the apparent lawlessness of the Yau Tong block under China Concrete’s shadow.
Man Fai Tai has been approached for comment.