“Under-performing” concrete plant operators, including firms such as China Concrete who have lost their environmental permits, will be banned from taking part in competitive tenders for a new concrete plant at the planned reclaimed land at Tseung Kwan O, says Development Bureau (DevB), in a frank response to doubts about the quality of industrial development in the area.
Officials told Transit Jam industrial facilities in the proposed development would be subject to stringent conditions, with the government even prepared to evict rule breakers if “worst comes to worst.”
After a weekend protest by residents against the Area 132 reclamation plan, DevB had said the six industrial facilities planned for the proposed reclaimed land – including a power grid facility, a concrete batching plant and a waste transfer station – would “not bring any nuisance to the community”.
But with authorities consistently failing to rein in illegal and nuisance concrete plants in nearby Yau Tong, Transit Jam had asked DevB how Area 132 would be any different and what specific steps the government would take to protect residents from pollution and noise from a potentially rogue operator.
“One clear difference is that the future operator of the concrete batching plant at […] Area 132 will be selected by the government based on competitive bidding,” said the DevB press team, adding that plants that had previously lost their environmental licences would not be welcome to bid.
“Also, unlike the existing under-performing operators at Yau Tong which are operating on their own private lots, the future operator at Area 132 will be operated on government land,” they said. As such, DevB said, the government landlord would have a “free hand” in setting contractually binding requirements on design and daily operations, with eviction a real possibility for environmental offenders.
“The Government as the landlord has the right to re-enter the land and terminate the operations of the plant for cases where there are serious breaches.”
DevB also defended Hong Kong’s concrete industry, claiming that it shouldn’t be judged by one or two bad actors, and that the 20 concrete batching plants in Hong Kong are “mostly well managed causing minimal environmental nuisance to nearby residents”.
But local residents opposing the reclamation said they were not convinced of the need for a concrete plant in the district at all.
One, an engineer working in the public sector, says building code requires concrete to be placed withing 2.5 hours of being mixed with cement, but Hong Kong’s small size meant even far-flung concrete plants could supply a site within 1.5 hours.
“There is no need to have concrete batching plants all over Hong Kong,” he said.
“As told by practitioners in construction industry, they buy pre-mixed concrete from associated plants or from one with the lowest quotation. Neither are necessarily the closest. Therefore it is misleading for the Development Bureau to tell the public that concrete batching plants are needed in each region.”
As an example, concrete trucks from Yau Tong or Yuen Long have been seen pumping concrete into a Wheelock Properties development in Wan Chai, when there are closer batching plants in Chai Wan.
DevB says there will be an Environmental Impact Assessment for the reclamation works and for the individual plants built on the new land, and that the government will employ strategies such as “vertical greening” to try to “harmonise with the surrounding environment”.
Residents say they will keep up their fight against the plans.
China Concrete’s Yau Tong plants are still working at full tilt despite many attempts by the Environmental Protection Department to have them shut down over environmental breaches.
But not all government departments are on board with the clean-up campaign: Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) recently said “no suspected breaching of cleanliness offences” were found from the two illegal concrete plants and says that zero prosecutions have been initiated involving environmental hygiene in the area around the plants, despite promises to crack down on concrete cowboys.