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Accusation flies about runway views

The Town Planning Board is being accused of violating its own rules by not properly informing interested parties about dates when the pros and cons concerning the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport will be heard.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Town Planning Board is being accused of violating its own rules by not properly informing interested parties about dates when the pros and cons concerning the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport will be heard.

Green Sense chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong said 99 percent of the 12,000 submissions received by the board were against the construction, but only 200 representatives were at a hearing yesterday because of how the board handled invitations.

Tam said the board had sent e-mails to interested parties asking if they were available this month without giving any dates. So only 200 replied and were informed of yesterday’s meeting.

“Not only is the Town Planning Board acting as a rubber-stamp authority,” Tam said. “It now seems to have adopted administrative hegemony.” That led to him writing to the board yesterday, asking it to think again on opportunities for people to present their views. A failure to do so could lead to action such as seeking a judicial review.

But board chairman Michael Wong said a legal consultant had cleared the arrangement, though some people were unhappy about meetings on weekdays as they could not take time off work.

Wong said others had demanded improvements in the way meetings were held as “they might have to wait for a whole day before they could speak.”

Also yesterday, Civic Party members against the HK$140 billion runway protested outside the meeting venue, the board’s North Point offices.

Legislator Kwok Ka-ki said it was wrong to push on with plans when problems such as air-traffic control and financing were unresolved.

The board has amended the Chek Lap Kok outline zoning plan and defined parts of a reclamation as an “airport service area.” The board is now carrying out public consultation on the plan with four hearings this month and in January. JANE CHEUNG

Rights and wrongs: Hong Kong’s small-house policy for indigenous villagers is outdated and unfair

Government officials can no longer bury their heads in the sand; it’s high time they sorted out a mess that’s been brewing for decades

The much-criticised small-house policy is under the public spotlight again. This came after 11 villagers and a property developer were jailed for defrauding the government in a housing scam in connection with the policy. The case is being taken up by rural affairs body Heung Yee Kuk, which argues that the policy allowing each male indigenous villager to build a three-storey villa is part of the traditional rights protected by the Basic Law.

The villagers certainly have the right to appeal against the conviction and sentencing in a higher court. But whether the small-house policy is a constitutionally protected right is debatable. Villagers are adamant that the construction of villas under this scheme, commonly called Ding Uk, are part of their traditional rights. But critics say the Basic Law does not specify what the rights are, adding that outdated and unfair policies should be scrapped.

Until the constitutional issues are put to the court for a ruling, the policy will continue to be a subject of debate. But that does not alter the general perception that the scheme is unfair, unjustified and unsustainable.

Introduced in 1972 as an interim fix for housing in rural areas, the scheme is prone to abuses. Some villagers have violated the rules by selling their rights to property developers to build houses for sale. The latest court case involved 11 villagers who had illegally sold their rights to build “small houses” to the developer for a total of HK$4.3 million.

It is difficult to see how the policy can be sustained. As the scheme applies to adult male indigenous villagers descended through the male line of residents of the 642 villages in 1898, the demand for Ding Uk is potentially infinite. Given the limited land supply in Hong Kong, the policy is simply unsustainable. Thousands of applications are still waiting to be cleared.

The background of the scheme may have something to do with the way the British took over the New Territories. But it does not make sense to dwell on the so-called traditional rights for indigenous villagers when urban and rural areas have been reunited under Chinese rule for nearly two decades. The policy is utterly unfair to non-indigenous people. Not only is it outdated and discriminatory today, it also splits the community and goes against the core values of equality and fairness.

That officials are still dragging their feet is disappointing. Years have passed but a so-called review is still going nowhere. The task is not easy. But delaying tactics are hardly the way forward.

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Hong Kong local dirty politic – The Rich & Famous

Report on Study of Road Traffic Congestion in Hong Kong

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Park defenders set big day to remember

CTA says: issue a ‘Use it or Lose it’ declaration on developer land banks

They are sitting on agricultural land for years waiting to get some corrupt Govt officer to change its status for residential development

A new alliance will mark December 13 as Country Parks Appreciation Day in an effort to stymie those who eye natural spaces as potential sites for housing.

The Save Our Country Parks Alliance of 29 green groups is launching what is planned to be an annual event.

Lam Chiu-ying, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University and a former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, hopes the day will remind everyone of the value of country parks.

Lam wants people to take photos of themselves in parks on December 13 and tag it “SaveOurCountryParks” on social media so the alliance may gauge how many people back the campaign. The intention is to show “a lot of people in Hong Kong love our country parks.”

The alliance is recruiting volunteers for visitor counting and promotion work at park entrances on the day.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has spoken of using park land with “low ecological value” for housing, and a foundation led by a predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, wants a review on park use.

One of Lam’s university colleagues, Ng Sai-leung, said planners should consider developing brownfield sites, golf courses and military sites before parks.

Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’? Not any more – and here’s why

We in Hong Kong have lived for so long with the branding of Hong Kong as “Asia’s World City” that I am sure many take it for granted. So a new study by the consultancy PwC makes sobering reading.

PwC’s 2015 “Building Better Cities” study*, released this week at the APEC meetings in Manila, should provide a powerful wake-up call for anyone in Hong Kong who cares for our future. This survey of the livability of 28 cities across the APEC region puts Hong Kong a drab 11th, with shocking ratings for culture and “social health”, health and welfare, and environmental sustainability.

We might not be surprised to see Toronto and Vancouver up in the top two places, but it is irritating to see us lag behind Singapore (3rd), Tokyo (4th), Seoul (7th) and Osaka (10th).

The concept of Hong Kong as Asia’s World City feels like an empty marketing shell

Livable city surveys are always guaranteed to get peoples’ hackles up. I always bristle when I read the Mercer global rankings, and even worse the shockingly opinionated annual Monocle ranking (Hong Kong gets hit for being hot, and for not having enough bicycle lanes). One can quibble too with the PwC rankings. But their methodology is transparent, and their efforts to be objective are commendable. And their main aim is not to humble underperforming cities, but to get us focused on the pressing policy challenges linked with urbanisation. In that they do a good job.

The 28 cities surveyed account for a population of 210 million people, with numbers rising fast. More than half of the Asia-Pacific’s population now live in cities, and the trend is accelerating.

Malaysia’s urban population has grown from 50 per cent of the total population in 1990 to 74 per cent today. Thailand’s urban population has grown over the same period from 29 per cent to 48 per cent. Just this week Xi Jinping reported that China’s urbanites accounted for more than half the country’s population, and will grow at 2 percentage points a year over the coming decade.

Cities are becoming increasingly important economic forces, often on a par with nations. Lima, for example, accounts for 70 per cent of the GDP of Peru. Manila accounts for 45 per cent of the Philippine GDP. Los Angeles alone has a GDP 1.5 times that of Saudi Arabia. As economic dynamos they can be a force for great good.

But they are also aggregators of many of our biggest social blights – pollution, poverty, crime and so on. Last year, cities produced 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste. As the PwC authors note: “Some cities essentially carry the opportunities and responsibilities of nations.”

It was perhaps with this thought in mind that Hong Kong leaders decided to brand Hong Kong as Asia’s World City 15 years ago. At that point, we accounted for 18 per cent of China’s GDP and were the unchallenged conduit between the dark, unknown Chinese interior, and the global business community.

Today, we account for barely more than 2 per cent of China’s GDP, and much work needs to be done if we are in a decade’s time still going to deserve the “World City” title.

The PwC study still ranks Hong Kong number one among the 28 cities as an economic powerhouse. And in terms of our “connectivity”, we rank an excellent number 2 behind Singapore.

But that is where the comfortable news stops. In terms of our cultural and social fabric we take a pasting – worst of all as the most unequal of all the 28 cities compared. The authors puzzle that one of the world’s most affluent cities should be home to more than a million people living in poverty.

They note that while incomes have risen on average by 42 per cent since 2007, perceptions of poverty are getting worse, as home prices have jumped by 154 per cent.

Our education system is poorly rated, as is lack of cultural diversity and a rising culture of intolerance. Our health care system ranks poorly, in particular in terms of the number of doctors we have serving the needs of our 7.2 million people. Failure to develop non renewable energy gives us a terrible environmental sustainability rating (though I quibble with us being punished for having comparatively few public parks – they should surely take account of our country parks?).

Beyond the city rankings, the study has greatest value in tracking some of the challenges arising from rapid urbanisation, and on the rising importance of city leaders to talk, learn and share with each other. Corrupt activity focused on urban communities costs the global economy at least US$1 trillion, it reports. Traffic congestion will remain a permanent challenge, even with good infrastructure investment: motor vehicles on our city roads are expected to double by 2022.

Pollution challenges will be another constant. Already, Beijing’s annual pollution bill is put at $11 billion. Cities produce 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste a year. Tackling these problems will require cooperation, knowledge sharing, better data – what they call a “stock market of city ideas”.

To optimise city development, city leaders first and foremost need to be clear on what characteristics differentiate their city. These are the distinguishing factors that underpin competitive advantage. With this knowledge in hand, they then need to collaborate with cities around them.

What screams at me most forcefully as I plough through the study is a depressing realisation that our own administration has no handle on the large majority of challenges that would make Hong Kong a better city, or underpin our future competitive advantage – in short, push us up the rankings.

The concept of Hong Kong as Asia’s World City feels like an empty marketing shell. Knowledge of what distinguishes us seems better expressed in Beijing than here at home. And collaboration with the huge cities in the Pearl River Delta that surrounds us is non-existent. If we are ever to deserve the World City title, our leaders have to do better than this.

David Dodwell is executive director of the Hong Kong-Apec Trade Policy Group

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Third runway could be another disaster in the making

With the skies over the Pearl River Delta region heavily congested and uncertainty over the mainland's willingness to open up its airspace, the third runway is likely to be the biggest white elephant Hong Kong has ever seen. Photo: HKEJ

With the skies over the Pearl River Delta region heavily congested and uncertainty over the mainland’s willingness to open up its airspace, the third runway is likely to be the biggest white elephant Hong Kong has ever seen. Photo: HKEJ

Under Leung Chun-ying’s dysfunctional regime, the large infrastructural projects in our city have gone wrong one after another, and the administration has yet to pick up the remnants of its blunders.

First, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, a project to which the Hong Kong and mainland authorities have attached so much importance, is now threatened by what could amount to an estimated HK$20 billion (US$2.58 billion) in cost overruns, and it is very likely that the overspending on this project is far from over.

Then the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which costs HK$7 billion and is already seriously behind schedule, has also been plagued by fundamental flaws lately, as an artificial island that anchors a sea tunnel crossing along the bridge has drifted out of position, threatening further delays in the project.

Unfortunately, the people of Hong Kong are likely to face even bigger woes in the future, as the Leung regime is set to build a third runaway at Hong Kong International Airport, despite strong public opposition and well-founded skepticism from the engineering sector.

The fact that our government is once again obstinately going it alone on a major infrastructural project regardless of public opinion suggests it is very likely the HK$141.5 billion third international runaway will turn out to be the biggest white elephant project this city has ever seen, constituting a waste of public resources of catastrophic proportions.

The only ones who will benefit from this project are the big companies that are given the contract to build it.

As far as the ordinary taxpayers are concerned, all they are left with will be an astronomical bill.

I have already written numerous articles on why we shouldn’t build a third runway.

I have said over and over again that Hong Kong might eventually need a third international runway, but definitely not now, because the operational capacity of the existing two runways is far from being fully utilized, thanks to our incompetent Civil Aviation Department, which can’t even hire enough air traffic controllers to do the job.

So why would we need a third one when the existing two aren’t fully used?

Besides, there are now five airports in the Pearl River Delta region, and the airspace is already overcrowded.

An extra runway will only exacerbate the traffic congestion over our heads.

Another grave concern of mine is that the Hong Kong government has repeatedly claimed it has reached an agreement with mainland authorities under which airliners heading for or leaving Hong Kong will be allowed to use airspace in the mainland once the third runway is completed, thereby increasing the total number of inbound flights to and outbound flights from Hong Kong.

However, so far, we haven’t heard any confirmation from the mainland authorities, casting doubt on whether any agreement between Hong Kong and the mainland on this fundamental issue has been reached at all.

The Civil Aviation Department says that to coordinate the rapidly increasing air traffic in the region, the airport authorities of Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland set up a task force in 2004 known as the PRD Region Air Traffic Management Planning and Implementation Tripartite Working Group (TWG).

In 2007, the TWG reportedly came up with a Pearl River Delta Region Air Traffic Management Planning and Implementation Plan to coordinate airspace planning and air traffic control in the region to meet the rising needs of the five existing airports in the Pearl River Delta area until 2020.

Yet, nobody knows whether the TWG is still in operation today, nor do we know whether it has ever discussed the potential challenges posed by the proposed third runway in Hong Kong and helped all the major stakeholders to reach any formal agreement on this matter.

I think the government still owes the public an answer as to whether it has concluded an official and formal agreement with mainland authorities under which they would open up their airspace to our flights if we were really going to build our third runway.

Because, without the mainland’s green light to use its airspace, the third airstrip would be completely useless and be nothing more than a damp squib, no matter how nicely built it is.

I really hope the TWG can make public details of its agreement, if there is one, concerning the third airstrip, to reassure the people of Hong Kong that the mainland is willing to cooperate with us over the expansion of our air traffic and that our city will truly benefit from this huge investment.

Without this reassurance, I see absolutely no reason why our taxpayers should agree to spend a whopping HK$141.5 billion on some extravagant project that is bound to fail from the outset.

Hong Kong authorities must reveal airspace plan before building third runway at airport

Albert Cheng says Hongkongers are right to demand some proof of a regional deal on air traffic management before a costly third runway is added to Chek Lap Kok

Officials are asking Hongkongers to take a blind leap in supporting the new runway at Chek Lap Kok. They say by the time the facility is operational in about a decade, Hong Kong will have adequate access to nearby airspace to make the HK$141.5 billion investment worthwhile.

The aviation authorities of Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China started discussing in 2004 how to maximise their respective airspace to cope with the rapid growth of commercial flights in the region. Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department joined with the Civil Aviation Administration of China and Civil Aviation Authority of Macau to form a working group to manage the regional air traffic, keeping in mind future expansion of the five airports in Shenzhen, Macau, Zhuhai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Their meetings from 2004 to 2007 culminated in a plan for the Pearl River Delta region.

The administration is, to put it mildly, ham-fisted in planning and overseeing large-scale engineering projects

Since then, the tripartite committee has been as transparent as a black hole. Legislators, industry experts and the news media have repeatedly asked the government to produce documents to assure the public the other two parties have indeed agreed to take concrete steps to help meet Hong Kong’s need for more airspace.

So far, officials can only regurgitate what they managed to get out of the working group eight years ago, with not a word about what the three sides have done or will do for Hong Kong’s third runway. The runway alone, without the reorganisation of the surrounding airspace, will not lead to any substantial increase in airport capacity. The plan is apparently little more than a statement of intent.

The last tripartite meeting was held in 2012. I dare say, to date, no substantive advancement has been made. The best that Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and other officials can do is hide behind the so-called plan, the exact content of which has never been disclosed.

One can presume there is no agreement to reorganise Hong Kong’s surrounding airspace to accommodate additional flights arising from the third runway. Without this, the new facility is doomed to be a white elephant.

Among the experts who have already spoken against the scheme are two former directors of aviation, Peter Lok Kung-nam and Albert Lam Kwong-yu, and former director of the Hong Kong Observatory Lam Chiu-ying. They, too, have also demanded to see proof of any regional cooperation on airspace. One wonders how many bureaucrats will step forward once they are free to speak their minds.

Although the Executive Council has already rubber-stamped the project, public opposition has been snowballing. At least two judicial reviews have been filed to block the construction of the runway.

The administration is, to put it mildly, ham-fisted in planning and overseeing large-scale engineering projects. The track record of Cheung and his colleagues hardly inspires public confidence in the third runway proposition. The troublesome express rail link is also in his portfolio. The scheme has a budget overrun of over HK$20 billion, while its completion date has been repeatedly delayed.

Another major infrastructure project, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, is also in troubled waters . Various parts of the reclamation for the HK$7 billion artificial island that would house the immigration facilities have shifted “up to six or seven metres”, according to reports. The Highways Department admitted the works could not be completed as scheduled by the end of next year. It could not say how long the delay would be.

Given such bitter experiences, I would not be surprised to see the final bill for the third runway exceeding HK$200 billion. The Airport Authority is now promoting its plan to impose a levy on travellers to help fund the project. It has even worked out details on how to make business-class passengers pay more.

This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. The new runway is heading for anything but a soft landing.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.

One million people living in a Lantau metropolis: does Hong Kong really want this?

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Bridge project on man-made island breached environmental permit, says Hong Kong green group

Ernest Kao

A green group claims the Highways Department violated the conditions of an environmental permit for a man-made island that forms part of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project by failing to declare significant changes in reclamation work.

Green Sense says that the location plans it had inspected in the nine amended environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports clearly showed that cylindrical steel cells – sunk into the seabed in a circular form and filled with debris – were to be used along the entire length of the seawall structure.

But two years ago the department’s contractor had begun using rubble mounds in some of the seawalls that may have caused more marine pollution, without noting the change in any of its nine amended assessments.

Green Sense chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong said this could amount to a breach of the EIA ordinance, which states that any variation to a report must prove “no material change to the environmental impact”.

Tam added that the Highways Department should not have let the contractor do this just to speed up work.

He also said the Environmental Protection Department had failed in its job to check the Highways Department.

“It is clear that this was a major change and if the EPD had allowed this, then we believe it to be a serious mishap and a defeat in the ordinance’s purpose.”

Tam said he would write to the Department of Justice urging them to take legal action and called on the relevant departments to take responsibility.

Last week the Highways Department admitted that flaws in the reclamation process were the reason part of the artificial island had drifted up to seven metres, sparking concerns of safety and cost overruns.

It said the movements were due to the use of steel seawalls, which eliminate the need for dredging, being used in the city for the first time.

The Highways Department said it had consulted the EPD and both methods were “non-dredge methods” with less environmental impact. “The EPD considered that the concerned amendments on works details involved no change to the … EIA report and no variation to the [permit] would be required.”

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing also said the project complied with permit requirements. He said silt curtains would help keep sludge from spewing into surrounding waters.