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February, 2009:

The Land In Front Of IFC?

What should be done with the land in front of IFC?

Updated on Feb 28, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to the report (“IFC owner opposes plan for neighbours”, February 24).

The joint-venture developers of IFC have stated that they are against the construction of two medium-rise commercial blocks in front of their property, because it will compromise their development’s design, and that the “harbourfront site should be returned to the people”. I find this refreshing expression of public spirit encouraging.

I am a member of a residents’ group on King Wah Road, North Point.

For the last 10 months we have campaigned against a proposal to build a massive 30 to 40-storey hotel project in front of our residential buildings on the harbourfront.

The proposed building will block our views, restrict air flow, limit sunlight and cause traffic congestion, and the associated noise and air pollution will compromise our living environment.

The developer behind the project is Henderson Land, which is one of the IFC developers.

The impact of the government’s plan [in front of] IFC is minimal when compared to the hotel’s impact on our residential properties.

We hope that the harbourfront at North Point will be similarly “returned to the people” and that the wider public interest will be respected.

Samson Fung, convener, Coalition Against the Proposed Development on King Wah Road

Planners Lose Appeal On ‘Toothpick Tower’ Limits

Yvonne Tsui and Olga Wong – Updated on Feb 28, 2009 – SCMP

Town planners are being too picky about Swire’s “toothpick tower” plan for Mid-Levels, a court said yesterday.

They had no right to consider the visual impact and effect on traffic of the development, a three-judge panel ruled.

The Court of Appeal judges upheld a lower court ruling that the Town Planning Board had been wrong to insist on a 12-storey height limit on part of the site of the 50-storey block of flats in Seymour Road, which critics have dubbed a “toothpick tower”.

A spokeswoman for Swire said it would start work on the tower as soon as possible.

People living near the site of the proposed tower said the court had ridden roughshod over their concerns.

“I am very unhappy about the ruling,” said Elina Li, of Goldwin Heights in Seymour Road.

“The traffic is too heavy here and there are too many construction sites in the area. These cause pollution,” she said.

Jason Yee, of Robinson Place, Robinson Road, said the ruling constituted a “mammoth relaxation” of planning rules.

“Thousands of people are against such a toothpick structure that will ill serve an area already plagued by traffic congestion, poor ventilation, restricted sunlight and a host of health concerns,” he said.

The rights and wishes of the community had not been respected, he said.

Yesterday’s judgment by Mr Justice Frank Stock, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann and Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling stemmed from an appeal launched by the board in December against a 2007 Court of First Instance ruling in favour of Swire.

The board had based its decision on explanatory notes attached to the outline zoning plan containing the 12-storey height limit for land adjacent to Castle Steps – a steep, stepped street.

But in his ruling, in November 2007, Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, of the Court of First Instance, said the explanatory notes were concerned only with the site’s accessibility and there was little to indicate that traffic issues were behind the board’s decision to limit development on the site.

He ruled that the development’s effect on traffic and its visual impact were irrelevant to the board’s consideration of Swire’s application and ordered it to relax the 12-storey height limit.

Swire had sought to build a 54-storey tower, but has only received approval for one 50 storeys tall.

A Swire spokeswoman said it would develop the site according to the planning and building approvals it had received.

A board spokeswoman said it would study the possibility of a further appeal against the Court of First Instance ruling.

A Real World Crisis

Updated on Feb 26, 2009 – SCMP

As the world faces a breakdown of the global financial system, governments are negotiating a new climate-change deal this year to reduce carbon emissions. It is unclear whether the current problems will hinder or help the climate negotiations. Many say governments and business leaders will probably focus on the short term because it is easy to go along with a “business as usual” way of doing things.

The global financial crisis is intricately linked to the widespread environmental breakdown. Both are the result of an economy powered by vast quantities of fossil fuels. The accepted notion of economic growth stresses the creation of immediate value that is often far beyond the regenerative capacity of our assets or capital, whether financial or natural.

As vast sums of money are pumped into financial markets just to help stabilise them, the attention of world leaders is being diverted from the climate-change crisis. They are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that the world economy is physically limited by the resources and services provided by the environment.

Human activity cannot be separated from what nature is able to support. However, the way we waste our natural capital, through overexploitation and pollution, is seriously degrading the environment in many parts of the world. Accelerating greenhouse-gas emissions are changing the world’s climate at an alarming rate, affecting agriculture, commerce and even human life through droughts, floods, extreme storms and forest fires. Species are threatened; others are adapting in unwanted ways, notably crop pests and disease-causing pathogens. The threat to civilisation is very high.

During a recent visit to South Africa for a meeting between the Tallberg Foundation – a Swedish non-profit organisation – and public- and private-sector leaders, there was a growing sense that many parts of Africa will be among the worst hit. The continent’s forests are dwindling, removing a vital carbon “sink”, while deserts are expanding. Governments are still allowing new coal mines to open rather than turning to renewable power. Safe water supplies are under stress as droughts and floods become more severe. The rising population only puts greater demands on limited resources.

A lot of solutions have been suggested for Africa’s problems, many of them common sense rather than hi-tech. Many opportunities exist in rural areas for small solar-powered energy systems to be developed using affordable, existing technology. Conservation and efficiency projects are a priority. Low-tech farming methods such as intensive organic production can reduce water use, eliminate reliance on proprietary seeds and fertilisers, and lock up carbon in soils while raising farm productivity and improving nutrition.

The key to these solutions is that they must be practical. Our African friends complained that, all too often, foreign governments want to press on them technology and methods that are inappropriate for their communities. The message was about being disconnected. Good intentions are wasted if those who offer technology and development assistance do not understand the needs of the African people. Many Africans feel that developed countries are too quick to pass on outdated technology, to make a quick profit, while simpler and cheaper solutions are available.

The Tallberg Foundation has identified four main goals for government and business leaders. First, they must address climate change within the wider challenge of preserving the regenerative capacity of global ecosystems. Second, they should ensure that a new climate regime is developed using the most up-to-date science. Third, they must embed ethics and principles of equity at the core of the global response to climate change. Finally, they must recognise that the effectiveness of a new climate deal depends on global governance reform that promotes the common good and not just economic interests. This applies not only to Africa, but to China and the rest of Asia, too.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

50% Tobacco Tax Increase

The Financial Secretary today announced that the excise duty on tobacco products will be immediately increased by 50% to HK$ 24 per pack above the current levels of just over HK$ 16 per pack.

Whilst we have sought a 100% tax increase, Clear the Air estimates that the new increased tax will hopefully:

– Reduce current adult smoking significantly

– Reduce current youth smoking by a significant amount and prevent our non smoking youth starting their addiction due to peer pressure

The Hong Kong Administration must now capitalize on this tax increase and move towards making Hong Kong the world’s leading non smoking territory.

Read the full Media Release here:




– 令成年烟民的數目明顯減少

– 令青少年烟民的數目明顯減少,從而防止青少年因受朋輩壓力去開始吸烟



Sustainable Features Offer Viable Option

Fulton Mak – Updated on Feb 25, 2009 – SCMP

Green features are still hard to find in Hong Kong’s concrete jungle, despite the rhetoric on sustainable and ecologically friendly construction and mounting concerns about environmental protection.

The chief obstacles to going green highlighted in a number of surveys are perceptions among developers of higher initial costs and a longer payback period.

But the truth is that sustainable features are not necessarily more expensive and some are already being introduced with the promise of showing immediate cost savings, say supporters.

Structural auditing, they added, was one of the invisible green measures that could produce immediate results.

Simply put, structural auditing involves establishing a group of experts including structural engineers to vet a project proposal and recommend modifications or a redesign of a building’s structural framework.

The auditing process may be conducted not only on projects still on the drawing board but also on those already under construction, according to Hossein Rezai-Jorabi, group director at Web Structures, a civil, structural and geotechnical engineering consultancy.

“We have shown that it makes construction easier and more cost-effective. Average savings can total about 30 per cent of the structural cost of the building,” said Mr Rezai-Jorabi. “This translates into something like 5 per cent of total construction costs, including architectural fees.”

Helping clients minimise expenses is a priority, said Mr Rezai-Jorabi. In addition, the objective is to be at the forefront of the environmental protection movement and to reduce pollution.

By way of example, he said, through modifying the structural design, the use of steel reinforcement could be significantly reduced to between 100 and 150 kilograms of steel reinforcement per cubic metre of concrete, compared with an industry norm of 150kg to 200kg.

Such a saving would depend on the building’s structure, height, and the type of materials used, but the multiplier effect of the savings would help make significant reductions in pollution arising from producing steel and cement, as well as the transportation required to get the materials to construction sites.

An example of the green trend in construction is the newly built One Island East.

When designing and building this 70-storey commercial property in Quarry Bay, Swire Properties employed building information modelling and building life-cycle management to reduce costs and construction time, and to increase efficiency and reduce waste.

With the help of 3D design software, virtual buildings can be built and procured on a computer allowing identification of design co-ordination errors, reducing construction waste, and improving material procurement, labour resourcing and overall site productivity, according to a report by CLSA U, an executive education research programme of the brokerage and investment bank headquartered in Hong Kong.

This allows the team to eliminate 15 to 25 per cent of construction waste and reduce construction costs by 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, concrete crushers were used during demolition of the previous buildings on the site and a waste management plan was adopted to facilitate recycling, with the result that only 1 per cent of waste was disposed of in landfills compared with an average industry standard of 20 to 30 per cent.

The new building uses indirect office lighting designed with adjustable illumination levels that reduces energy consumption by up to 60 per cent, and extra large low-emissivity glazing panels that ensure maximum light penetration with minimum energy loss, heat gain and noise.

The result is that One Island East secured the highest platinum rating of the Building Environmental Assessment Method.

Proposed Idling Ban To Be Eased For Taxis

Daniel Sin – Feb 24, 2009 – SCMP

The proposed ban on idling engines would be relaxed, but not dropped, for taxis, the environment chief told lawmakers.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah told the Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel that the legislative proposal to ban idling engines would be revised for taxis. The change would exempt from the ban the first five taxis, rather than the first two, at a taxi stand, and taxis in a moving queue or in the process of passengers boarding or alighting.

The taxi trade had demanded that cabbies be given a full exemption. But Mr Yau was not willing to make that concession, saying it would lead other sectors to make the same demand, defeating the purpose of the legislation.

He also dismissed suggestions for exemptions during exceptionally hot or rainy weather, saying there was no such precedent in other jurisdictions adopting a ban.

The government would draft the law with a view to introducing the bill to Legco before mid-July, when the current legislative session ends, Mr Yau said.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party criticised Mr Yau for being ignorant of how the taxi trade operated, saying the revised proposal was not workable. “How would the sixth taxi driver, and those behind him in the queue, know whether to switch off the engine, especially when the queue is long or the view is obstructed?” she asked.

The Motor Transport Workers General Union called for the legislation to be shelved, saying the proposed measure would be ineffective in improving air quality while putting drivers’ and passengers’ health at greater risk.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said the legislation should take effect as early as possible, but flexibility in enforcement should be allowed in special circumstances such as extreme hot weather or heavy rain. He said the regulation could be fine-tuned as more experience was gained in making it work.

Appalling Pollution A Nightmare For Elderly

Appalling pollution a nightmare for elderly Yau Ma Tei residents

Updated on Feb 22, 2009 – SCMP

It is a sad fact that people living in Hong Kong suffer from noise and air pollution particularly in Yau Ma Tei district. Residents are unable to enjoy peace and quiet and breathe fresh air.

The Highways Department has built more than 10 roads and flyovers close to Prosperous Garden without any mitigation measures. In fact, instead of alleviating the serious traffic nuisance, the department is planning to construct another Central Kowloon Tunnel portal and more skyscrapers close to Prosperous Garden, which will make traffic congestion worse.

Most Yau Ma Tei residents are elderly and they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution caused by traffic.

I have met Yau Tsim Mong district councillors but they say they do not have the power to handle the case.

I wrote to these columns (“Department must not build tunnel portal close to Yau Ma Tei estate”, December 14) and I and other residents also met legislative councillors in December and I hope they will now do something about this problem.

Noise insulation covers are needed at Ferry Street, which is adjacent to Prosperous Garden, and the proposed tunnel portal should not be built next to housing estates. To counter traffic pollution, there should be landscaped areas and barriers to mitigate the effects of the pollution.

Poor environmental planning and traffic pollution are the main contributors to the poor air quality in Hong Kong. A Legco committee should look at this important issue.

We need stronger laws to counter these serious pollution levels that are affecting the whole population of Hong Kong.

A great deal of work still needs to be done to improve the quality of our urban environment. We must improve our environment for the sake of public health and protect our basic human right to enjoy clean air.

Edward Lee, representative, Environmental Group on Central Kowloon Route

Retrospective Rezoning Of QRE Plaza

Retrospective rezoning of QRE Plaza has set a dangerous precedent

Updated on Feb 22, 2009 – SCMP

With the retrospective rezoning of QRE Plaza, in Wan Chai, from open space to commercial, the Hong Kong town planning process has crossed the Rubicon and ushered in a whole new era of over- development. Developers using this decision as a template can now build on green-zoned sites, and then apply for rezoning on any spurious claim.

In the case of QRE Plaza the developer’s argument, supported by our ever supine Planning Department, was there was noise and air pollution from traffic, hence the site was not ideal for open space. Surely it is because of these very conditions that it is appropriate to have some empty spaces on busy streets in order to mitigate the canyon wall effect? If all our open spaces were subjected to similar criteria most would fail to be ideal locations.

District planning officer Brenda Au Kit-ying claims that the open space planned for Lee Tung Street will provide ample open space for the district. Anybody sitting in the concrete space planned for that development will be bombarded by the exhaust of the hundreds of cars driving in and out of the extensive parking facilities included in the plan.

No mention has been made of the abuse of the zoning plans and why the Planning, Buildings, Transport and other departments involved in the approval process for the QRE Plaza all disregarded the zoning status of the site.

The administration in its desire to support Hopewell Holdings has now opened a can of worms, the repercussions of which we can only imagine. It is obvious by the number of incursions into our country parks recently and the cutting of trees and other pre-development works undertaken that developers have been anticipating the outcome of the town planning decision on QRE. Now with the collusion of indigenous villagers, residents and taxpayers in other countries who return to Hong Kong only to keep their right of abode and to join in some traditional knees-up, developers will be busy digging out any old document that can be used as a basis for developing green sites.

Our government will be only too happy to back their claims. Outline zoning plans have been rendered redundant.

Candy Tam, Wan Chai

HK Academic Spreading The Word On Air Pollution

SCMP – Updated on Feb 21, 2009

A Hong Kong University of Science and Technology professor has been appointed editor-in-chief of a leading academic journal on air pollution. Professor Chak Chan, associate head of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, is the first Asian to be given the post at Atmospheric Environment.

Beijing’s New Year Lunacy

Zhuang Pinghui, SCMP – Updated on Feb 20, 2009

After the capital’s disastrous celebrations, there is public support for a ban on fireworks. But not everyone agrees it will be effective.

Because of her job, Wang Qunying has not been able to have a relaxed Lunar New Year celebration for four years. As a security officer in the Zhonglouwan neighbourhood service centre, which includes Beijing’s historic Drum and Bell Towers, Ms Wang had to patrol the hutongs between 5pm and midnight to keep an eye out for potential fires.

“My heart was right up in my throat during the holidays,” she said. “Our neighbourhood is composed of only single-storey houses with dead weeds on the roofs. They could easily catch fire because of the fireworks.”

With fire extinguishers at hand, she was stationed in the open space between the two towers on Lunar New Year’s Eve where a huge crowd, many of them foreigners, celebrated by setting off fireworks.

One foreigner fired a rocket that landed on a roof and caused a fire, and another set off a floating lantern that ignited a tree. Neither incident caused injury or financial loss.

But that was not the case with the inferno that engulfed the Mandarin Oriental building at the new CCTV complex, killing a firefighter, almost destroying the hotel and setting off a debate about whether the mainland authorities should reimpose a ban on fireworks.

The authorities said the fire, which burned for nearly six hours, was caused by CCTV illegally setting off fireworks so powerful they required municipal government approval. But even to Ms Wang, whose job is fire safety, it’s an unnecessary debate.

“Without fireworks, Lunar New Year would never be the same. You can’t deprive people of their right to celebrate the occasion in its traditional way. We should come up with other methods to reduce the danger,” she said. Ms Wang said she supported having organised fireworks shows in open spaces so that the public could still have the flavour of traditional celebrations while pollution, noise and danger could be kept at acceptable levels.

There are signs that this is a minority view, however. With the images of raging flames and showers of red ashes still fresh in the minds of many, nearly 70 per cent of people in an online survey said fireworks should be banned because of the noise and danger.

According to official figures, there were 75 fires with 46 people injured in Beijing on Lunar New Year’s Eve because of fireworks. Many also complained about the lingering smell and heavy smog after the fireworks frenzy of the Lantern Festival – the last day of the Lunar New Year.

The city’s environment watchdog confirmed that the air pollution index, which measures major pollutants, hit 307 in the 24 hours to noon on February 10. That level equates to “very polluted” by national standards and was the worst for the capital since June.

The Beijing People’s Congress has listed a study of whether to change the Beijing Fireworks and Firecrackers Safety Management Regulation in this year’s work plan, prompting talk of a ban being reintroduced.

For 13 years, the city banned fireworks but the prohibition was lifted for the Lunar New Year holidays in 2006 after public consultation. More than 200 cities imposed the ban in the 1990s but, by 2005, at least 106 cities, including Shanghai and Hangzhou, had relaxed it.

But sociologists, people in the fireworks industry and even security officers such as Ms Wang said a ban would not solve the problem, and could make it worse.

“It’s like giving up eating because you might choke,” said Zhang Hui, president of the Tourism Development Research Institute under Beijing International Studies University.

“Lighting fireworks is a traditional celebration that brings special family joy. The government should strengthen inspections to ensure supplies are of good quality and people follow safety rules to fire them. The problem is not the fireworks.”

Wu Youcheng, Beijing sales manager of Dou Dou Fireworks, one of the three official fireworks distributors in the capital, agreed that a blanket ban was no solution.

“From past years’ experience, people would still set off fireworks even when there was a ban and they would try to sneak fireworks in from unofficial channels, raising the risk of them being substandard and causing accidents. The consequences [of a ban] would be much worse than lifting the ban and ensuring the fireworks on the market are of good quality,” he said.

Even when the city government urged residents to buy fireworks through official channels – temporary shops set up in designated areas and selling products from the three official distributors – many still drove to counties in Hebei to buy supplies. Across the border, fireworks stands were set up on roadsides near highways and prices were at least one-third below those in Beijing.

The demand for fireworks has been rising steadily over the years, indicating greater general enthusiasm for the pyrotechnics, said Wu Liyu, general manager of Beijing Fireworks, another of the three official distributors and the official supplier to national ceremonies such as the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

The company had seen sales soar from 400,000 boxes in 2006 to 500,000 boxes this year, well above the 50,000 or so it sold during the years of the ban. A box contains around 30kg of fireworks.

Residents have also been more willing to pay high prices, in some cases thousands of yuan for a box of fireworks with special effects such as the “smiling face” and “big footprint” made popular during the Beijing Games.

“Apparently, residents have the money and enthusiasm for fireworks celebrations. A complete ban would cause social resentment,” Wu Liyu said.

It would also be a catastrophic blow to the fireworks companies and some sectors of the industry, which was vital to the economy of some cities, he added.

Industry insiders said 80 per cent of fireworks were manufactured in Liuyang and Liling in Hunan province, and Pingxiang, Waizai and Shangli in Jiangxi, and were economic mainstays in those areas.

Both executives said it would be more sensible and practical to solve the problem by stricter inspection of the industry and better education of consumers. They said there were already strict regulations on the production, storage, transport and use of fireworks, and the problems were caused by people not respecting them.

Hundreds of registered factories manufacture or process fireworks in Hunan, in addition to the many small-scale workshops that employ manual labourers and often cause deadly accidents – 22 people died in four separate factory accidents across the country last month.

Even in big operations such as Dou Dou’s, workers still need to mix and fill powder by hand – the most dangerous link in the production chain. Big companies have established inspection procedures or separate production into stages, to reduce risk, but these precautions are seldom seen in small workshops.

Beijing, with its abundance of sites of historical and political importance, has strict regulations on fireworks but they are poorly enforced, the executives said.

“You are allowed to put no more than 20 grams of powder in a cylinder up to 40mm in diameter and if the firework creates a bloom in the sky, it should be between 25 metres and 70 metres high,” Wu Liyu said. “But from my observation, many fireworks must be outside the regulations or they could not produce such magnificent effects.”

Beijing also forbids all fireworks within 100 metres of important sites such as historic buildings, kindergartens, nursing homes, hospitals and roads. But the mountains of ash and rubbish on Beijing’s streets were clear evidence that these rules were flouted.

As well, fireworks can only be used during certain hours. Nevertheless, explosions rocked the capital late into the night. “I think it’s better to control the damage from the consumers’ end,” Wu Liyu said.

“Say a family budgets to spend 500 yuan on fireworks, they can start by buying them through official channels, buying less dangerous ones if they are for children and strictly following the regulations.”

He said the most effective way was to educate people about the right way to set off fireworks, to prevent tragic consequences. It would also save on the costs of monitoring the annual extravaganza. More than 750,000 people, including police, city inspectors, neighbourhood service officers such as Ms Wang and volunteers, were deployed during the first six days of the holidays.

Wu Youcheng said there should also be greater awareness of environmentally friendly fireworks, which have a less overpowering powder smell and no noise.

“There are many stubborn habits that among Chinese have been corrected, such as spitting. I believe recklessly setting off fireworks will also be corrected, given time,” he said.