What does the response to the Typhoon Mangkhut damage mean for govs environmental policies?

by on Nov 28, 2018 in Lifestyle , Opinion
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The inadequate response to the Typhoon Mangkhut damage poses big questions about the government's environmental policies. Columnist John Batten offers his opinion 

The evidence of Typhoon Mangkhut's visit in September is still around us. Thousands of fallen trees have yet to be cleared, while the management of trees whose branches have been cut and trimmed raises questions about the competence of those doing the work.

A few weeks after the typhoon, in the Chief Executive's policy address, Carrie Lam announced that reclamation and artificial islands would be developed off eastern Lantau, near the small island community of Peng Chau. Meanwhile, the government's own task force on land supply will release its final report in December.

However, the report appears meaningless as the government has pre-empted its findings by opting for the East Lantau development. As critics have rightly pointed out, that scheme cannot ease Hong Kong's immediate housing woes. Building substantial transport and road infrastructure to service the estimated 1 million people who will live in this new town is essential and the required planning and construction will take many years.DSC09162Lam also announced the reintroduction of industrial building conversions for families who are currently living in sub-standard housing. However, such an intervention will have repercussions by distorting the market for businesses requiring industrial work spaces, such as food production factories, engineering and fabrication companies, warehousing for logistic companies, processing and office records storage, and repair facilities for appliances, cars, electrical equipment, plumbing and air-conditioning. Without suitable and affordable industrial spaces, Hong Kong's ability to be a fully functioning city will be severely restricted.

If we can't get the management of our trees right, how can the government think it can successfully manage such an environmentally sensitive project as the construction of huge artificial islands off eastern Lantau?

A more immediate solution for families living in substandard living conditions should be to use the Education Department's stock of vacant schools, numbering more than 100, and located across Hong Kong. Classrooms could quickly be subdivided and re-provisioned as accommodation, and bathrooms and kitchens could be converted from existing facilities. We know that government departments are highly protective of their resources and policy rarely crosses the boundaries of individual departmental responsibilities. So, education and housing are separate issues and government responses to housing will remain conservative: vacant schools will remain vacant.DSC09170The management of Hong Kong's trees is similarly strangled by government inertia. Widely reported, photographed and shared after the typhoon were trees that had been planted in shallow soil, especially those planted at ground-level, as landscaping for large housing developments. These trees had fallen because their roots had no room to spread. Above-ground, trees have been severely cut and trimmed and there has been little evidence of the necessary replanting to replace those that have fallen.

If we can't get the management of our trees right, how can the government think it can successfully manage such an environmentally sensitive project as the construction of huge artificial islands off eastern Lantau?

John Batten is co-convenor of the Central & Western Concern Group and writes on art, culture and heritage issues.



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