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‘Forest Cities’: The Visionary Plan to Save China From Air Pollution

Stefano Boeri, the architect famous for his plant-covered skyscrapers, has designs to create entire new green settlements in a nation plagued by dirty air

Nanjing Green Towers, promoted by Nanjing Yang Zi State-owned National Investment Group Co., Ltd, will be the first Vertical Forest built in Asia. (photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

Nanjing Green Towers, promoted by Nanjing Yang Zi State-owned National Investment Group Co., Ltd, will be the first Vertical Forest built in Asia. (photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

hen Stefano Boeri imagines the future of urban China he sees green, and lots of it. Office blocks, homes and hotels decked from top to toe in a verdant blaze of shrubbery and plant life; a breath of fresh air for metropolises that are choking on a toxic diet of fumes and dust.

Last week, the Italian architect, famed for his tree-clad Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) skyscraper complex in Milan, unveiled plans for a similar project in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.

The Chinese equivalent – Boeri’s first in Asia – will be composed of two neighbouring towers coated with 23 species of tree and more than 2,500 cascading shrubs. The structures will reportedly house offices, a 247-room luxury hotel, a museum and even a green architecture school, and are currently under construction, set for completion next year.

But Boeri now has even bolder plans for China: to create entire “forest cities” in a country that has become synonymous with environmental degradation and smog.

“We have been asked to design an entire city where you don’t only have one tall building but you have 100 or 200 buildings of different sizes, all with trees and plants on the facades,” Boeri told the Guardian. “We are working very seriously on designing all the different buildings. I think they will start to build at the end of this year. By 2020 we could imagine having the first forest city in China.”

Boeri described his “vertical forest” concept as the architectural equivalent of a skin graft, a targeted intervention designed to bring new life to a small corner of China’s polluted urban sprawl. His Milan-based practice claimed the buildings would suck 25 tons of carbon dioxide from Nanjing’s air each year and produce about 60 kg of oxygen every day.

“It is positive because the presence of such a large number of plants, trees and shrubs is contributing to the cleaning of the air, contributing to absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen,’ the architect said. “And what is so important is that this large presence of plants is an amazing contribution in terms of absorbing the dust produced by urban traffic.”

Boeri said, though, that it would take more than a pair of tree-covered skyscrapers to solve China’s notorious pollution crisis.

“Two towers in a huge urban environment [such as Nanjing] is so, so small a contribution – but it is an example. We hope that this model of green architecture can be repeated and copied and replicated.”

If the Nanjing project is a skin graft, Boeri’s blueprints for “forest cities” are more like an organ transplant. The Milan-born architect said his idea was to create a series of sustainable mini-cities that could provide a green roadmap for the future of urban China.

The first such settlement will be located in Luizhou, a mid-sized Chinese city of about 1.5 million residents in the mountainous southern province of Guangxi. More improbably, a second project is being conceived around Shijiazhuang, an industrial hub in northern China that is consistently among the country’s 10 most polluted cities.

Compared with the vertical forests, these blueprints represent “something more serious in terms of a contribution to changing the environmental urban conditions in China,” Boeri said.

Boeri, 60, first came to China in 1979. Five years ago he opened an office in Shanghai, where he leads a research program at the city’s Tongji University.

The architect said believed Chinese officials were finally understanding that they needed to embrace a new, more sustainable model of urban planning that involved not “huge megalopolises” but settlements of 100,000 people or fewer that were entirely constructed of “green architecture”.

“What they have done until now is simply to continue to add new peripheral environments to their cities,” he said. “They have created these nightmares – immense metropolitan environments. They have to imagine a new model of city that is not about extending and expanding but a system of small, green cities.”

Boeri described the idea behind his shrub-shrouded structures as simple, not spectacular: “What is spectacular is the nature, the idea of having a building that changes colour with each season. The plants and trees are growing and they are completely changing.”

“We think – and we hope – that this idea of vertical forests can be replicated everywhere. I absolutely have no problem if there are people who are copying or replicating. I hope that what we have done can be useful for other kinds of experiments.”

How shrinking dolphin numbers off Hong Kong’s largest island point up environmental impact assessments

City’s third runway plan, controversial bridge among projects sparking debate

On paper, residents of Kat Hing Gardens, a cluster of small village houses near Kam Sheung Road railway station in Kam Tin should have a phenomenal view – one of sprawling wetlands full of waterbirds and rare butterflies.

After all, the then Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) had built them to compensate for 12 hectares of natural wetland between Kam Tin and Yuen Long that was permanently lost during the construction of the Kam Sheung Road section of the West Rail Line.

The reality however, is a fragmented collection of swamps, isolated from functional wetland systems. Some of them wither in the shade of the viaduct. Most measure just a few thousand square feet and are barricaded from the public by a hostile wall of steel and wire fencing. Apart from mosquitoes, there is minimal life. There are even times when the wetlands are not even wet at all.

“This was just compensation for the sake of compensation,” said Dr Ng Cho-nam an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong. “It is meaningless.

These wetlands have no ecological value.”

The West Rail was the first large-scale project to require a managed wetland compensation project under the requirement of the project’s environmental permit, which was based on approval of its environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The example has entered Ng’s educational canon – he teaches EIA at university – as a classic case of short-sighted ecological mitigation and compensation planning as well as the shortcomings of the impact assessment system. “I bring all my students here on field trips,” Ng said.

The West Rail was built more than a decade ago. But as development projects across the city get bigger, more complex and political, critics have raised questions.

Calls for an overhaul of the EIA system have been growing in recent years, with lawmakers on the environmental affairs panel of the Legislative Council demanding that a complete review of the 18-year-old EIA Ordinance be placed on their discussion agenda this term.

“The weakest components of the EIA system are mitigation measures for ecology and the environmental monitoring and auditing [EM&A],” said Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, assistant director of conservation at WWFHong Kong and a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, which must vet EIA reports and make recommendations to the government.

He was referring to the chapter of the EIA technical memorandum that requires “verification of predictions or measures” to mitigate environmental impacts upon completion of the project.

Dr Gordon Maxwell, an ecologist an Open University and a former EIA appeal board member, agreed and said the ordinance needed to be enhanced as it currently “excluded more things than it included”. “It doesn’t take into account or pay attention to the ecological function,” he said. “We should be trying to enhance the ecological

Mitigation mishaps

Coming under intense public scrutiny in recent years has undoubtedly been the city’s HK$141.5 billion third runway [3] system. It is Hong Kong’s biggest infrastructure project since the new airport was built.

Activists have slammed the issuing of an environmental permit to the Airport Authority as a breach of “procedural justice”. The EIA, they claim, had left several environmental and ecological questions unanswered but had still been approved.

A judicial review over the decision was recently thrown out by the High Court.

The judicial challengers believed there had been a lack of immediate mitigation measures in the EIA to compensate for the more than 650 hectares of permanent habitat loss – mainly to the protected Chinese white dolphin. Issues such as the accumulative impacts from surrounding projects such as the bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai had also been ignored.

One of the 250 mitigation measures was the creation of an enlarged protected marine park for dolphins – but only when the project was completed in 2023. The authority’s experts claim displaced dolphins will come back eventually but conservationists believe this is “wishful thinking”.

Spelling doom for dolphins

Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, has been one of the project’s biggest critics. He said it was disappointing the city had not learned from the experience of the EIA for the bridge. The project had also been subject to judicial review over unaddressed issues of pollution and the use of faulty methodology in
the EIA.

The project was delayed after the Court of First Instance ruled the assessment failed to meet the government’s own standards in 2011. But the government appealed and the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Chinese white dolphin numbers in northern Lantau have tanked since construction work began in 2011, driven to waters further away or to death by deafening noise pollution and declining fish stocks.

Elaborate mitigation measures were introduced in the EIA from silt curtains to action and limit levels. But dolphin numbers are still going down and nobody can be held

From an average encounter rate of 7.7 sightings per 100km in 2011, the figure dropped to just 1.4 in 2015. Their abundance in north Lantau has nearly halved since 2010.

Since 2015, the number of dolphins seen in northern Lantau waters has fallen by 60 per cent.

“The [bridge project] pretty much opened the Pandora’s box of easy to pass EIAs,” said Hung. His theory, he claimed, had been confirmed by the judicial decision on the runway EIA.

Hung said the biggest problem with EIA reports was that they were commissioned to “independent” consultants by project proponents and were almost always approved by the government. “Their main job is to make sure their client’s EIA is passed, not to ensure that the environment is protected,” he said, pointing out that in many cases such as in the third runway, the same consultant was hired to help do the EM&A. “The question arises: are they truly independent?”

Since the ordinance was introduced, the director for environmental protection has received 240 EIA reports. Of these, 38 had failed to either meet certain criteria or were withdrawn before consultation. Just one was rejected.

Role of gatekeeper in doubt

It doesn’t help that the gatekeeper for the EIA, the director, also holds the position of permanent secretary for the environment, a post at risk of coming under political

“There are too many interests involved in EIAs,” said Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, a University of Hong Kong ecologist and a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment, who has been calling for a review of the system rather than the ordinance.

“In this political environment there is always the chance of political manipulation. Even if a review of the ordinance is conducted, will it actually strengthen it?” he said.

Because most designated projects are proposed by the Hong Kong government, Hau believed it would be difficult for a director, who was also a member of the policy bureau, to split his professional and political roles in making decisions on EIAs.

The perceived conflict of interest is most apparent when it comes to government projects – the planned controversial waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, for instance, was floated by the Environmental Protection Department, the body that would scrutinise and approve its EIA.

In defence of the ordinance

Those involved in EIAs, however, are quick to defend the system and brand much of the criticism as “unfair”. Built on the backs of those in the Netherlands, Australia and Canada, the system is hailed as a pioneering development for Asia that helped inspire others.

Introduced in 1998, the EIA Ordinance was seen as a way to avoid, minimise and control adverse environmental impacts from designated projects through a thorough process and a permit system. The principles were avoidance, minimisation, compensation and enhancement.

“The process has been shown to be solid over 18 years. It works, it has given the accepted result that they wanted in the legislation, and the professionalism has increased, I would say, by an order of 10,” said Dr Glenn Frommer, a former head of corporate sustainability for the MTR Corporation [6], who helped develop the assessment for the airport railway project in the early 1990s.

“Environmental protection is now a common theme. You cannot build a large scale infrastructure project in Hong Kong without having environmental professionals involved to do the adequate planning, implementation and operation.”

Clara U Kam-wa, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment and a senior assessor with the Environmental Protection Department, points out that over 200 EIAs have been approved since the ordinance was implemented and many developments in environmental engineering and design were adopted after being put through the EIA process. She did not believe there were conflicts of interest in the department’s dual positions as all EIAs were assessed strictly according to the technical memorandums.

“There have been so many hidden successes and unexpected consequences [of EIAs],” U said. She pointed to the influence of the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line project in altering engineering preferences from tunnels to viaducts and the evolution of excavation works to favour non-dredging methods.

In 1998, an EIA study brief set requirements on greenhouse gases at a time when climate change was not as hot a topic, influencing a decision by applicant HK Electric to opt for a gas-fired generating facility in its extension to the Lamma Island power station.

“It’s actually a very interesting story as, at that time, no one considered greenhouse gases as a pollution source,” said Freeman Cheung Chun-ming, a senior vice president for environment at engineering consultancy AECOM and a former institute chair. “They basically set the frame that new generation units would have to run on natural gas and not coal.”

Frommer highlighted two fundamental developments over the decades that EIAs will have to keep up with: the “de-siloisation” of issues set out in the memorandums and the evolution of public participation in the EIA process.

“We’re now seeing more connections between air, noise, water, waste, agricultural risk, chemical usage issues,” he said.

A frequent criticism of the ordinance has been the lax public engagement requirements.

A project proponent, for instance, is only required to consult the public and advisory council on project profiles for 14 days and on their EIA reports for one to two months.

The way forward

Conservationists like Hung believe there will be a significant “deterioration of trust” in EIAs. “After the bridge EIA was approved, I knew the third runway would finish off the dolphins,” he said. “The[project proponents] have become just too good at gaming the system.”

EIA scholars are relatively more sanguine. Ng of HKU supports “mitigation banking” – a system similar to carbon banking in which habitat loss from one project is banked as credits and used for off-site mitigation somewhere more feasible.

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Hong Kong environment professionals call for accreditation scheme to improve impact assessment quality

With more complex development projects, institute says improved accountability is also needed

A professionals institute has called for the creation of a government-recognised chartership scheme that would accredit qualified environmental impact assessors and raise industry standards.

It comes amid increasing demand for environmental impact assessment studies as more and more complex development projects are proposed for the city.

The Institute of Qualified Environmental Professionals (HKIQEP) said the scheme would be similar to those offered by professional institutes for local surveyors, architects or engineers.

“There are many ways to substantiate your technical expertise, but under the current system there is no recognition for the environmental discipline,” institute vice-chair Freeman Cheung Chun-ming, a senior environmental manager at engineering consultancy Aecom, said.

“The purpose will be to upgrade the professional recognition of environmental professionals… to make sure members are well qualified and have a good ethics and quality.”

Cheung said the HKIQEP would be empowered by ordinance to issue Qualified Environmental Professional credentials to members who meet the experience requirements and pass a trade test and interview. Project proponents could then request to hire only those who have the relevant qualification.

He said discussions had been held with lawmakers and the government on the proposal.

The HKIQEP is made up of a number of related institutions, including the staff union for the government’s environmental protection officers.

The quality of environmental impact assessments, has come under scrutiny in recent years with multiple judicial reviews lodged against different projects, including the most recent regarding the airport’s third runway.

Over 200 environmental impact assessment studies have been approved since the ordinance came into effect in 1998.

Clara U Kam-wa, who chairs the Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment welcomed the proposed scheme.

“Accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean things will be better, but with a qualified professional, environmental consultants would be held accountable for their work,” she said.

Ecologist Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, a member of the government Advisory Council on the Environment also commended the idea, but hoped it would improve quality control in studies.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said, questioninghow the qualification would cover such a varied field of expertise, including air and water quality, noise or ecology.
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Development Bureau forum on 2030 Plus vision leaves public none the wiser

I attended the Development Bureau’s second “public engagement” forum on December 18 on its “Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030” ( or “2030 Plus”).

I can attest that the public was not engaged, but patronised and stonewalled by the five government officials there, aided by a biased moderator.

A Planning Department official consumed a quarter of the allotted time with a 2030 Plus presentation full of graphics and feel-good buzzwords like “smart, green, resilient city”, and “urban-rural-nature integration”.

In concrete terms, these jaunty concepts boiled down to creating 1,200 hectares of land for two new towns, New Territories North and East Lantau Metropolis, involving large-scale reclamation, extremely high costs, razing villages and displacing their inhabitants.

Understandably concerned, many in the audience sought specific answers during question time. They submitted their names to a lottery and, if drawn by the moderator, were permitted to speak.

He drew 10 to 15 names at a time and grouped all their questions in one batch for officials to address. This ploy allowed officials to gloss over or simply not respond to many questions.

I would like to look at a few of the questions they didn’t answer.

What is the government’s cost estimate for the East Lantau Metropolis? Comprising 1,000 reclaimed hectares around two islands east of Lantau, this vast new city is likely to cost over HK$400 billion. Its feasibility study alone costs HK$248 million [1], the costliest such study in the history of our infrastructure.

Why won’t the government release the five consultancy studies on the metropolis and Lantau? Why won’t it even disclose a 20-year-old cost estimate for a tunnel connecting Hong Kong Island to one of the two islands? This estimate is in a government study for a 1990s plan to build a new town on reclaimed land around Green Island; a similar tunnel is likely to be built for the metropolis.

Why can’t the government acquire the land from brownfield sites, developers’ land banks, and the 900 hectares reserved under the small-house policy?

Or why not terminate the lease of 163 hectares to the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling and use the land for public housing?

A director of developer Hopewell said Hong Kong needed the golf course as Asia’s world city. Mindful perhaps that some audience members may live in subdivided flats, even the five officials remained silent on that score.

Of the 30 audience members who spoke, 26 spoke against the government’s plans.

Chai Kim-wah, Lantau
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Hong Kong to get new country park, protection for incense trees and horseshoe crabs

Robin’s Nest close to the border will be designated a country park and species such as the Chinese pangolin and certain freshwater turtles will receive protection

Some 67 measures are included in a long-awaited blueprint on biological diversity and conservation in the city over the next five years.

Released yesterday, it also takes forward the designation of Robin’s Nest, near the border town of Sha Tau Kok, as the city’s 25th country park.

Furthermore, it proposes a threatened species list and pledges to formulate specific conservation approaches for local species.

Initiated in 2013 in line with UN Convention on Biological ¬Diversity requirements, the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) focuses on the enhancement of conservation, mainstreaming the concept of biodiversity, improving knowledge and promoting community involvement.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said the city’s first such plan would be implemented by an interdepartmental working group chaired by the secretary for the environment and would ultimately “step up biodiversity conservation and support sustainable development”.

The new country park, covering more than 400 hectares of land in the northeastern New Territories, would dovetail with another aim to ¬expand wildlife habitat connectivity – Robin’s Nest adjoins Shenzhen’s Wutong Shan National Forest Park, forming a continuous “ecological corridor”.

“The government will commence the preparation for the designation of Robin’s Nest as a new country park, including seeking views of other departments and stakeholders including the local villagers, before initiating statutory procedures under the Country Parks Ordinance,” the report read.

More ecologically important enclaves would also come under the parks system in “appropriate locations”, although no further details were given.

A new conservation strategy is promised for five threatened “priority species”, including the Chinese pangolin, selected freshwater turtles, the horseshoe crab and incense tree. Existing conservation plans for species such as the Chinese white dolphin and Romer’s tree frog will be -reviewed and strengthened.

Gavin Edwards, conservation dreictor at WWF-Hong Kong, welcomed the plan but said it scored low on marine conservation due to a lack of a clear target on how much of local waters should be protected. The UN convention recommends a global target of 10 per cent, but here just 2 per cent is protected.

Dr Leung Siu-fai, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said ongoing plans for marine parks [1] around the Brothers and Soko islands, as well as southwest -Lantau, would raise the city’s level “to 4 to 5 per cent”.

Paul Zimmerman, a member of the BSAP committee that offered advice on the drafting of the plan, said its vision and mission were “well structured”, but offered few practical measures to meet the target of halving the global rate of habitat loss.

“There has been a creeping loss [of habitat] due to illegal landfilling and other hostile actions or acts of eco-vandalism over private land,” he said. “The government is also taking away green belts for housing, rather than developing brownfield sites.”
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Hong Kong gov’t announces new HK$150m biodiversity strategy and action plan

The government announced the city’s first strategy and action plan to conserve biodiversity and support sustainable development on Wednesday.

The Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) outlines 67 action points in four major area including conservation, biodiversity, awareness and promotion of community involvement.

The conservation measures include designing new parks and strengthening the management of protected areas such as marine parks. Also included are plans to conserve species that demand specific attention, for example, horseshoe crabs and incense trees.

Director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department Leung Siu-fai said the legislative process of designating the Brothers Marine Park is about to be completed. Three new marine parks will be brought online in the next few years, he added.

“In choosing appropriate locations for country parks, the department has been assessing areas based on their ecological value, and whether they can provide leisure and educational facilities to the public,” Leung said.

A spokesperson for the Worldwide Fund for Nature told HKFP: “We do believe that much can be achieved by implementing this action plan, including expanding Hong Kong’s network of marine parks and developing & implementing effective action plans for species such as Pangolin, Golden Coin Turtle, Black Faced Spoonbill and Chinese white dolphin. We will work with and also hold government to account for the implementation of this plan.”

More enclaves

Secretary for the the Environment Wong Kam-sing added that more enclaves will be incorporated into country parks.

The plan also aims to ensure different government bureaux continue incorporating biodiversity considerations in their work. The government will lead, or commission, studies to monitor and collect data on biodiversity, such as species assessment.

The final section of the plan calls for the promotion of conservation work in schools or to the general public.

Hong Kong Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2021. Photo: GovHK.

“The Government started the preparation of the BSAP in 2013. In the public consultation conducted in early 2016, the initiative to implement the BSAP has received general support from various sectors of the community,” Wong said.

The government has set aside HK$150 million to carry out the initiatives of BSAP in the first three years.

Hong Kong doesn’t need a vast new town rising from the seas off Lantau

Tom Yam says the government’s vision for the East Lantau Metropolis rests on flimsy rationale, amid a lack of political will to secure targeted land elsewhere from vested interests

No sane investor commits to a project to be completed in 30 years with no data supporting the need for it, no estimate of the capital required, and no cost-benefit and risk

Unless it is the Hong Kong government, using taxpayer money, to build what it calls the “East Lantau Metropolis”.

This metropolis takes pride of place in the Development Bureau and Planning Department’s study, “Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030”, due to be presented to the Legislative Council’s development panel on November 8.

According to this “planning vision”, the East Lantau Metropolis will be created by reclaiming land around two islands east of Lantau and connecting them to Mui Wo in south Lantau. On these 1,000 hectares will rise housing for 400,000 to 700,000 people, and a business district, with essential infrastructure such as utilities, telecommunications, schools and clinics. Bridges or tunnels and railways totalling 29km will link this vast new town with the rest of Lantau, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Clearly, the metropolis will be the most expensive infrastructure project in Hong Kong’s history, probably costing as much as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the high-speed railway to Guangzhou and the third runway combined. Yet the government has not explained why the project is necessary, other than the anodyne rationale  of “strategic long-term growth”.

Chief Executive Leung Chunying mooted the concept of the East Lantau Metropolis in his January 2014 policy address.

Just three months later, his government requested HK$227 million for a feasibility study on reclaiming land for the metropolis. After barely 90 minutes of discussion at Legco’s development panel, the request was approved by 10-3 votes, thanks to progovernment legislators.

Since then, four requests to conduct an analysis of the need for such a metropolis in the context of population growth and housing supply have been rejected.

The Development Bureau now claims the East Lantau Metropolis is justified by its recently announced Hong Kong 2030+ study. Curiously, the study began in 2015, a year
after funding was requested for the metropolis.

According to the government’s own figures on population and housing, this metropolis is bound to become the mother of all white elephants. The Census and Statistics Department projects Hong Kong’s population, now 7.3 million, to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, then fall to 7.81 million in 2064. The number of households, 2.43 million in 2014, is projected to peak at 2.93 million in 2044 and drop to 2.91 million in 2049. So, just as the East Lantau Metropolis is completed in the 2040s – adding capacity for up to 700,000 people and 260,000 housing units (at 2.7 occupants per household) – Hong Kong’s population and housing needs will be declining.

The fact is the government would achieve its housing targets without building a behemoth in the sea. It has targeted enough existing land for housing, but lacks the political will to secure that land from vested interests. Hong Kong has 2.67 million housing units now, and the government plans to add 460,000 new units in the next decade, for a total of 3.13 million units. This will meet the peak requirement of 2.93 million households in 2044, after which the number of households will decrease.

The Hong Kong 2030+ study acknowledges that with the East Lantau Metropolis, Hong Kong will have the capacity for 9 million-plus residents, whereas the population will peak at 8.22 million. It disingenuously suggests the extra capacity will mean more space for everyone. As many as 700,000 residents on the metropolis’ 1,000 hectares
means a population density of 70,000 per sq km – far denser than Hong Kong’s most congested district, Kwun Tong, which now has 57,250 residents per sq km. Even at  the lowest estimate of 400,000 residents, the metropolis will be 2½ times more congested than Wan Chai’s 15,000 residents per sq km.

The 2030+ study offers another flimsy rationale: the extra capacity allows flexibility in case of an unforeseen 10 per cent rise in population (despite forecasts in the past 15 years predicting a declining trend).

That means the East Lantau Metropolis will be the costliest contingency plan in the world: hundreds of billions spent to provide for an unlikely 10 per cent increase in population. A smarter contingency plan would be to add capacity incrementally around planned development areas in the northern New Territories.

Like any sales pitch, “Hong Kong 2030+” brims with buzzwords – “smart liveable low-carbon”, “synergy effects”, “smart mobility-transport information platform”, and so on. But any serious investor subjecting the East Lantau Metropolis to even a rudimentary business case analysis would consign it to the recycling bin.

No wonder development chief Paul Chan Mo-po is trying to rush this immense project through with little public scrutiny. However, in May, he gave a private showing of a detailed model of the metropolis to Zhang Dejiang, China’s third-ranking state leader and top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

Showing Zhang the model, while hiding it from the public, makes it evident that the public consultation on “Hong Kong 2030+”, including the East Lantau Metropolis, is a pro forma exercise. The decision has been made, and public input will not change the outcome.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Red tides in Hong Kong flag failings of small-house policy and officials in denial

The report on the causes of recent red tides by the University of Hong Kong (“Seeing red over algal blooms”, July 30), highlights the woeful performance of the government in controlling marine pollution.

A major source of pollution is sewage from New Territories houses. Houses constructed under the small-house policy are exempted from building regulations and often have individual septic tanks.

Many village houses are part of large development plans, masterminded by developers and the Heung Yee Kuk, which are a blatant abuse of the small-house policy. Fake farming activities are often used to “condition” land before submitting building applications. Despite often being part of a coordinated development plan, house applications are treated individually. Planning authorities do not assess the cumulative impact of siting numerous septic tanks close to environmentally sensitive waters.

There are no plans to extend mains sewage to most New Territories villages and the government refuses to consider environmentally friendly sewage treatment plants for villages.

The Environmental Protection Department’s guidance material for constructing septic tanks is, by its own admission, incomplete.

The material is way behind international best practice, offering no protection to coastlines other than where there is a gazetted beach. Rules in the Water Pollution Control Ordinance, designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest, mariculture sites and marinas, are ignored. The Lands Department, which processes individual house applications, uses its own document, which was agreed at a secret meeting between the Environmental Protection and Lands departments in 2009. It further waters down the regulations, for instance, removing the need to assess the suitability of soil conditions for septic tanks in many cases.

Monitoring water quality is haphazard and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is incapable of measuring the minute quantities of pesticides which can be extremely toxic to marine life.

The main function of water quality monitoring appears to be to enable the Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation departments to tell everyone that there is no problem. The government lives in a state of denial of serious marine pollution problems.

The unaccountable, incompetent, complacent and uncaring bureaucrats who are in charge of Hong Kong’s environment will not be happy until the land is covered in concrete and the seas filled with plastic, human excrement and chemicals. So much for Hong Kong’s commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. Compliance is a cosmetic farce.

David Newbery, Sai Kung

The true cost of consumption: The EU’s Land Footprint

EU’s dependence on overseas agricultural land trampling the world

Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on farm land beyond its borders, creating inequalities and threatening both the environment and rural communities, according to a new report released today by Friends of the Earth Europe.

The report reveals that the European Union requires almost 270 million hectares of agricultural land – known as Europe’s ‘Land Footprint’ – to sustain its unsustainable food production and agricultural practices. Almost 40% of this land is outside Europe, an area the size of Italy and France combined [1].

Meadhbh Bolger, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Overconsumption is eating up ever more land, often with disastrous consequences. It is unjust, irresponsible and unsustainable that we continue to use more than our fair share of global land and are shifting more than one-third of the impacts related to land consumption to ecosystems and communities outside of the EU. It is vital that the EU take steps to measure and reduce Europe’s Land Footprint.”


The report also reveals the knock-on impacts of over-reliance on imported animal feed and year-round seasonal goods, and surging demand for vegetable oils, particularly those for non-food uses such as biofuel – with a 34% increase in cropland consumed from outside the EU since 1990. Animal products like meat and dairy account for over 70% of the overall land requirements, and non-food crops like biofuels are linked to negative social impacts on local communities and environmental impacts, including forest loss.

Stanka Becheva, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “To reduce our inequitable footprint we need a radical overhaul in how and where we use land. Industrialised agriculture and global food chains are swallowing up land across the globe, damaging the environment and rural communities. We rapidly need a just transition to a greener way of farming that works for all people and the planet.”

Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on the European Union to reduce its land footprint, and the associated harmful impacts, ensuring that our use of land is environmentally sustainable and socially just.


This can be achieved by implementing a system for measuring, monitoring and reducing Europe’s land footprint, especially in the areas of bio-economy, circular economy and sustainability policies. Providing incentives that encourage a reduction in the consumption of land intensive products or products that embody relatively high environmental impacts like animal products will also drastically reduce Europe’s land footprint, according to the organisation.


[1] The “Land Footprint” as referred to above, and in the report, refers to agricultural land only (cropland and grassland). Due to current data limitations, EU-wide Land Footprints for non-agricultural products are not possible to calculate.

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Effectiveness of Central-Wan Chai Bypass in easing traffic congestion

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Following is a question by the Hon Frankie Yick and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):


The public engagement document on the Electronic Road Pricing Pilot Scheme in Central and its Adjacent Areas has pointed out that one key consideration in assessing if electronic road pricing is a suitable solution for traffic congestion is whether a free-of-charge alternative route is available to motorists to bypass the charging area.The document has also pointed out that the Central-Wan Chai Bypass (CWB), upon its commissioning, will serve as a free-of-charge alternative route, making it convenient for motorists whose journeys do not start nor end in Central or its adjacent areas to make a detour around the charging area.Regarding the effectiveness of CWB in easing the traffic congestion in Central, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the Government indicated in February 2014 that upon the commissioning of CWB, it would be only five minutes’ drive from Central to Island Eastern Corridor at North Point, but now CWB cannot be completed in 2017 as originally scheduled and the number of vehicles in the territory upon the commissioning of CWB is expected to be higher than the original estimation, whether the Government has reassessed the time required for the aforesaid journey; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the authorities’ latest estimations of (i) the vehicular flows of CWB and its percentage in the design capacity of CWB, (ii) the reduction in vehicular flows on various major roads in Central as a result of the commissioning of CWB, and (iii) the effectiveness of CWB in easing the traffic congestion in Central, in the first five years upon the commissioning of CWB; and

(3) given that the Commissioner for Transport indicated in an article published in a newspaper on March 8 of this year that, as pointed out in past studies, CWB would render no direct help to easing traffic congestion on non-major trunk roads (e.g. Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central) within Central, and at the time a large number of vehicles that needed to go into Central would still be using these roads, and the authorities therefore did not expect that the traffic congestion in the locations concerned would be much improved, of the details of the aforesaid studies and the data in support of the aforesaid conclusion?



The Central-Wan Chai Bypass (CWB) is a strategic route along the northern shore of the Hong Kong Island, aiming to alleviate the serious traffic congestion at Connaught Road Central, Harcourt Road and Gloucester Road.It is anticipated that upon commissioning, drivers whose origins and destinations are not in Central will no longer use the current major trunk road that runs through Central from east to west (viz. Connaught Road Central).However, those drivers whose origins or destinations are in Central will still have to use the non-major trunk roads (e.g.

Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central).

The CWB project is a large-scale and complex road infrastructure project.It has encountered various difficulties and challenges since construction commenced in 2009 which affected the progress of works.Part of the construction of the CWB tunnel structure that has been entrusted by the Highways Department (HyD) to the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) to be carried out under the Wan Chai Development Phase II project (WDII), is part of the main trunk road of the CWB.The large metal object that was previously found at the seabed of the WDII works site caused suspension of reclamation and associated works in the area.After the reclamation works resumed in early July 2015, the CEDD notified the HyD of the revised site handing over schedule after the recommencement of works.The CEDD estimated that the section concerned of the CWB tunnel could only be completed for handing over to the HyD¡¦s contractor for carrying out the subsequent works in mid-2017.As such, the HyD anticipated that the related subsequent works like installing various electrical and mechanical facilities (including a traffic control and surveillance system, a tunnel ventilation system, a lighting system and a fire services system), laying road pavement and carrying out system testing and commissioning, could not be completed within the same year.In other words, the CWB could not be commissioned in 2017 as originally scheduled.The HyD together with their consulting engineer and resident site staff will continue to closely monitor the works progress of the CWB project and will duly assess the schedule of works with the aim of commissioning the CWB as early as possible.

My reply to the various parts of the Hon Frankie Yick’s question is as follows:

In the discussion paper PWSC(2009-10)52 submitted to the Legislative Council Public Works Subcommittee by the Government in 2009, the following details of projected volume to capacity (v/c) ratios (Note 1) in the morning peaks in 2017 (anticipated commissioning year at that time) and 2021 have been provided:

If withoutwithIf withoutwith
the CWBthe CWBthe CWBthe CWB



As shown from the above table, at the initial stage of commissioning of the CWB, the v/c ratio in the morning peaks is 0.7, meaning that at its initial stage of commissioning, the capacity of the CWB is sufficient to cope with the anticipated traffic volume with a smooth traffic flow.Therefore, it is anticipated that same as the original estimates, it will only take about five minutes to drive from Central to the Island Eastern Corridor at North Point.Also as shown from the above table, at the initial stage of commissioning of the CWB, the v/c ratios of Connaught Road Central, Harcourt Road and Gloucester Road will decrease from 1.3 to 0.9.Therefore, the Government anticipates that upon commissioning of the CWB, the traffic congestion at Connaught Road Central, Harcourt Road and Gloucester Road can be alleviated.

However, the CWB will bring no direct relief to non-major trunk roads (e.g. Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central) in Central.After the commissioning of the CWB, these roads will still be used by a large number of vehicles which need to enter Central.As such, the traffic condition in the district is not expected to improve significantly.With reference to the information in the Supplementary Note provided by the Government to the Expert Panel on Sustainable Transport Planning and Central ¡V Wan Chai Bypass under the Harbour-front Enhancement Committee (Note 2) in 2005, the same conclusion could be drawn – after the commissioning of the CWB, traffic congestion will only be slightly alleviated during peak hours at certain busy junctions in Central (e.g. the junction of Pedder Street and Des Voeux Road Central, and the junction of Queen’s Road Central and Ice House Street (Note 3)).

Note 1: Volume/capacity (v/c) ratio is an indication of the traffic conditions of roads during peak hours.

A v/c ratio equals to or less than 1.0 is considered acceptable. A v/c ratio between 1.0 and 1.2 indicates a manageable degree of congestion. A v/c ratio above 1.2 indicates more serious congestion.

Note 2: Please see Appendix 4.6B of Supplementary Note No.5 (

Note 3: The performance of a traffic signalised junction is indicated by its reserve capacity (RC).A positive RC indicates that the junction is operating with spare capacity; and a negative RC indicates that the junction is overloaded, resulting in traffic queues and longer travelling time.After the commissioning of the CWB, the RC of the junction of Pedder Street and Des Voeux Road Central and the junction of Queen’s Road Central and Ice House Street during peak hours are expected to improve from 2% to 6% and from -3% to 5% respectively.