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August 30th, 2011:

Airport talks near final approach

Hong Kong Standard – 30 August 2011

Science is fully in play as planners look at ways to lessen the impact on the environment of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok, a senior executive of the Airport Authority argued as he tried to take the heat out of opposition to the project.

“Development and environment are not mutually exclusive,” said executive director of airport operations Howard Eng Kiu-chor as he pointed to more impact studies and mitigation measures once people are convinced of a need for a third runway.

But green groups and some political parties continue to push the authority to extend the consultation, which ends on Friday after three months.

They were at a third runway forum and workshop organized by WWF Hong Kong in Wan Chai yesterday, with Eng claiming the authority has taken the environment into consideration in its proposed master plan.

For instance, Eng said, there would be no marine piling in order not to upset Chinese white dolphins.

But green groups remain unconvinced.

The WWF Hong Kong’s climate program head, William Yu Yuen-ping, said his group supports airport improvements but the authority has failed to provide a full picture of the environmental cost if a third runway is to be constructed.

And seeking more consultation on two choices – extending present facilities or a third runaway – Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai- hing told Eng: “I don’t think, based on what you’ve done in these few months, that you should come to a conclusion that option two should be adopted.”

More “engagement and consultation” is needed, she added, and “if you try to come out and announce that option two is accepted, I think there will be a big uproar in the community.”

Law Cheung-kwok of the Aviation Policy and Research Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong backs a third runway option.

“Time is running out,” he said. “It is urgent and vital to construct the third runway to sustain our position as an international aviation hub.”

Separately, the Staff and Workers Union of Hong Kong Civil Airlines is also backing a third runway after a poll of 511 aviation industry workers earlier this month. Eighty percent support it.

At least one more public event is due this week.

Extended debate on runway ruled out

South China Morning Post – 30 August 2011

Pan-democrats want more time to study details, and economist questions benefits

The Airport Authority will not extend the consultation period for its proposal to build a HK$136.2 billion third runway at Hong Kong International Airport, which is set to end on Friday, despite appeals by lawmakers and an allegation that the economic benefits of the project have been grossly overestimated.

The pan-democrat camp has called for more time to digest the 2,000 pages of technical studies, saying that these reports were released only on August 8.

“All I ask for is two more months to study it before the authority reaches the conclusion that everyone is behind the proposal,” Tanya Chan of the Civil Party said.

But authority executive director Howard Eng said the consultation was only the first step and more detailed studies would be needed once a consensus was reached on whether the runway was actually needed.

Officials say the runway will bring an economic benefit of HK$912 billion over 50 years – seven times the cost. But an economist with a London-based institute that helped overturn the case for a third runway at Heathrow airport in 2009 said the actual benefit could be much lower.

“In the economic case for the third runway expansion there is a serious lack of sensitivity testing to account for future shocks in core factors like oil prices and economic growth forecasts,” David Thesis, a researcher at the New Economic Foundation, said. “Such assumptions in the consultation reports appear to be overly optimistic.”

Speaking at a forum organised by the green group World Wide Fund for Nature yesterday, Thesis said that, for example, the authority had used oil prices for 2009 – when crude was just US$53.5 per barrel – for its calculations. This was not only almost 40 per cent lower than current price at US$85.75 per barrel, but was also 50 per cent lower than the one-year peak at US$114.18 per barrel.

The benefits would shrink further if a price tag was put on the social and environmental costs, including an increase in fine-particle pollution, mainly in Tung Chung, that could increase mortality rates by nearly 13 per cent, Thesis said.

The UK government predicted a third runway at Heathrow could bring in a net £5.5 billion (HK$63.8 billion) in economic benefits after deductions for a £13.6 billion cost in worsening air, noise level and aggravated carbon emissions. The foundation predicts a loss of £4 billion.