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January 20th, 2012:

Lord Norman Foster: We need Victorian spirit to build Thames airport

Norman Foster says we need to think big again, and the big thing he wants to do is build a mega-airport in the Thames Estuary. To do this, we must rediscover the spirit of the Victorians.

Description: Options for airport expansion

An artist’s impression of the Thames Estuary airport Photo: PA

By Neil Tweedie

8:30AM GMT 21 Jan 2012

“The railways you ride on, the sewage system you depend on, were the result of someone a long time ago deciding that it was important to invest in the future,” he says. “We in Britain invented the concept of infrastructure.”

The master architect believes we have lost our mojo. He wants to give us a grand projet: the Thames Hub, a vast airport at the mouth of the river built partly on reclaimed land and forming the centre of a high-speed rail network bypassing London and linking the rest of the country with Europe.

Cost? He estimates £50 billion including a new Thames Barrier to provide tidal power for the airport, equipped with four runways and able to operate 24 hours a day, well away from London. But detractors think it could be nearer £70 billion.

“Can we afford not to afford it?” asks Lord Foster. “If we do not modernise our transport infrastructure we will slide down the international scale.”

Foster has a big ally in Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who this week claimed No 10 backing for an estuary airport. Mr Johnson floated the idea of a man-made island airport, christened Boris Island. Lord Foster’s proposal uses Kent’s Isle of Grain and reclaimed land.

Britain, says the architect, risks losing its status as an aviation hub. Heathrow, approached over London, is at 95 per cent capacity, handling 68  million passengers a year. Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam have more runways and serve more destinations such as China and Brazil. A third runway for Heathrow and second runway for Gatwick have been ruled out.

Better to build a new airport for 150 million passengers a year, says Lord Foster. Planes will take off over the sea, reducing noise pollution. The only creatures affected will be birds, for which the RSPB will mount a fierce defence. The architect promises to build an eco-island off Essex. The £20 billion cost of the airport itself would be mitigated by selling Heathrow for £12 billion. The North will be connected by a “spine” incorporating high-speed rail and broadband.

But what of the glacial planning system? “Even if you take out five years for planning we still take three times to complete a major infrastructure initiative than they do in Asia,” he says, citing the rapid construction of his Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong on reclaimed land.

And the money? “It is difficult in these times to find a good return on investment. This would be incredibly attractive to pension and sovereign wealth funds.”

But opponents argue that closing Heathrow would result in major economic disruption, with 76,000 people working at the airport and hundreds of businesses sited to take advantage of it. Mr Johnson’s backing appears to have backfired. He was accused of crude electioneering — many living under Heathrow’s flightpath vote in the mayoral election — and angered the Liberal Democrats.

Will this hub be built? Parliament has already passed an Act allowing the building of a Thames Estuary airport. That was in 1973 and we are still waiting.

Swap dirty diesel trucks for cash

South China Morning Post

How many more insults can this administration take over its proven failure to provide us (and itself) with such a basic human requirement as clean air?

Your editorials and correspondents have suggested taking filthy diesel trucks and buses off the streets without delay, even at taxpayers’ expense. It is argued that the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

This is my attempt to convince the government to act.

These cash-for-clunker programmes in some countries (where the government offers cash incentives to replace dirty vehicles) were a huge success during the last financial crisis. They can help the environment and the economy and have proved to be a very effective way to get old and dirty vehicles off the roads. Previous incentives were too small-scale to work.

The offers that are made must be substantial so that the pre-Euro IV vehicles are removed from our roads without further delay.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has asked citizens to suggest the best use of taxpayers’ money ahead of next month’s budget. It would be a major breakthrough if he listened to us so we could all breathe more easily.

H. P. Kerner, Sai Kung

Waste Planning

Download PDF : APP-Waste-Planning-Journal-Article-Oct2011 (1)

CE rejects criticism of clean air delays


CE rejects criticism of clean air delays
The Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, has denied that the government delayed the introduction of new air quality objectives, to allow major infrastructure projects to proceed under the older, more lenient standards. He promised legislators that the construction of a third runway at the airport would abide by the new, tougher standards, even before they’re implemented in around three years’ time. Mr Tsang said that the government’s had to do a lot of preparatory work to pave the way for the new air quality objectives.

Michael Tien struggles through a fog of information

South China Morning Post – 20 Jan 2012

RTHK’s Backchat programme yesterday produced more fireworks on the topic of Hong Kong’s air quality. Professor Tony Hedley, who is an acknowledged world expert on public health and the environment, described the government’s announcement of new air quality objectives (AQOs) as “disappointing, chaotic, out of control”.

“We have been talking about this for 22 years,” he said. “Today we have some of the worst air quality in the world, certainly by the standard of a developed economy… It is quite clear and I think it is official, the government is prepared to trade off child health in favour of business infrastructure development.”

The new measures “were unlikely to make any meaningful difference to the health impacts of the population”.

Jim Middleton, chairman of Clear the Air, said environment chief Edward Yau should be fired for his dilatory approach to improving the air, adding he must have been instructed to act this way to enable the government to continue with its infrastructure projects.

Mike Kilburn, head of environmental strategy at the Civic Exchange, said it would be challenging to met the mainland’s new objectives while Hong Kong’s would not be since they were so lax and would do little to improve air quality.

So it wasn’t exactly a public relations success for the government.

Some of the lighter moments were provided (unwittingly) by co-host Michael Tien, New People’s Party deputy and former rail bigwig. “Not being very technically oriented in this field, I kind of get the gist of it,” he said, as he painfully took us through his learning curve. “You have economic development, you have infrastructure development and this regional influence…” You would have expected him to have a better grasp of the subject.

Waste plan must include recycling

South China Morning Post – 20 Jan 2012

I have been very disappointed to learn about the government’s proposal to charge for solid waste.

This is not because I do not support efforts to reduce the volumes of waste generated in Hong Kong. However, the government is once again proposing a short-sighted solution to what is a pressing problem.

Most countries which have introduced this kind of waste-charge system have made it part of an integrated package, with a good recycling system and facilities which enable the public to distinguish between different kinds of waste. Also, regular and convenient collection methods are provided.

This is not the case in Hong Kong. I still cannot find a place to leave empty glass bottles for recycling. I have no choice but to throw them in the rubbish bin.

How can the government simply introduce a waste charge for the public without ensuring there is a comprehensive recycling network?

It is acting with indecent haste and I wonder if it has considered the possible consequences of its actions.

Some Hong Kong citizens, in order to avoid paying the waste charges, might just leave rubbish on the streets. Imagine the manpower and other resources that would be required to clean up this mess. And what sort of impression would this give to our visitors?

Some households might even accumulate rubbish at home rather than pay the charge.

If that happens, I dread to think what conditions will be like in some of the tiny flats we have in Hong Kong. It could also lead to domestic problems.

It is important to promote the need for us to have simpler lifestyles and recycle, not to reduce waste by charging.

I wish to stress again that without a good recycling system, this charging policy is bound to fail.

It will leave the public feeling discontented with the new policy and only cause grievances.

I hope the administration will shift its focus and come up with policies that have long-term benefits for society.

C. C. Chan, Hung Hom

Right choice

South China Morning Post – 20 Jan 2012

Edwin Lau says officials must rally Hong Kong to accept the best option for waste charging, and not cave in to the objections of vested interests

Why is Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah taking so long to roll out a legislative proposal on waste charging? After all, he’s been the secretary for five years, charged with the priority task of tackling Hong Kong’s mounting waste problems.

Some are sceptical about Yau’s timing for the recently announced public consultation that will end in April. By the time the government releases the consultation findings, this hot potato will probably have been passed to someone else.

The consultation document lists successful overseas examples, along with the pros and cons of four waste-charging options. One of them is a quantity-based charging option, which we believe to be the most effective of the four as it uses financial incentives to encourage the public to produce less waste, under the polluter-pays principle. Yet, officials hesitate to lead the public towards this option.

The first question raised by the media when this document was released was about the range of charges for the quantity-based option. How can the public give sensible feedback without knowing how much they would need to pay?

The public expects the Environment Bureau, with its professional knowledge and insight, to lead them towards the right approach, not to throw us “equal” options to choose from. Moreover, neither the fixed-charge nor the proxy-system option – which offers no financial incentives – can drive behavioural change.

Every proposal that either brings inconvenience or hits a person’s pocket is bound to encounter opposition from vested interests. The plastic-bag levy and anti-smoking law are examples of the fight the business sector can put up. Business interests can also be good at projecting worst-case scenarios to scare the public. Yet, despite these scare tactics, we now enjoy more smoke-free places and have established a “bring your own bag” habit on shopping trips to reduce the use of plastic bags.

Friends of the Earth (HK) has, over the past two years, carried out surveys of domestic waste from residential estates. In the 200 bags we looked at, 20 per cent of the waste was recyclable and almost 50 per cent was food waste. We should enhance the current waste separation and recycling systems to facilitate the collection of food and other waste. Then, through waste charging, recyclers will see business opportunities in food waste, glass bottles and other low-value recyclables, and they won’t have to be buried in our bulging landfills.

South Korea and Taipei city implemented waste charging in 1995 and 2000, respectively. As a result, their amount of disposed waste per person has dropped by up to 60 per cent, which has saved their governments money and reduced the pressure on expanding landfills and building incinerators. At the same time, the recycling industry has been developed to provide more green jobs in the community.

We have seen that as little as 50 cents can change behaviour in the use of shopping bags, so we do not require high charges to get Hongkongers to reduce, reuse and recycle. Yau should educate the public and legislators to get them to support the right choice, even when faced with opposition from stakeholders.

What is missing is not the technology to “treat” our waste; it is the political will of officials.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director, general affairs, at Friends of the Earth (HK)

We’ve had enough of all this hot air

Dear Legco,

For the attention of the Panel on Environmental Affairs.

Perhaps the ENB would like to comment ?

Kind Regards

James Middleton


South China Morning Post – 20 Jan 2012

At long last, Hong Kong has new targets to aim for to improve air quality. They replace guidelines formulated 25 years ago and are closer to those recommended by the World Health Organisation in 2005. That they still fall short in several key areas and are the same as suggestions made after a public consultation in 2009 is disappointing, though. The government claims to be doing its best to reduce worsening pollution levels, but the slow pace of change suggests it is still putting development and the interests of big business before our health.

Officials have had many warnings about the importance of clean air. The dire health effects of prolonged exposure to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and small particulates from vehicles are well known. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have attempted to make the government’s slew of measurements meaningful with the Hedley Environment Index, which aims to track the short-term impact of air pollution on society. A revised version, coinciding with the release of the new standards, estimated that an average of 3,200 premature deaths have occurred each year over the past five years, leading to an economic cost to Hong Kong of HK$40 billion.

Those figures are a substantial increase on the last estimates. There will be little chance of them falling if government measures continue to cut at the edges rather than the heart of the problem. The Environmental Protection Department’s recent annual update of roadside pollution levels in our busiest districts showed record increases, with the Air Pollution Index being above the “very high” mark of 100 for 20 per cent of the time. It was disappointing proof of the gap between authorities’ rhetoric and pollution-fighting measures they had implemented.

There is more evidence that cleaning the air is not being given priority with the new air quality objectives. While the inclusion of fine respirable suspended particles of 2.5 microns is welcome and higher standards of between 10 per cent and 64 per cent have been set for seven pollutants, authorities are not legally bound to meet any of the targets. Four of the seven – sulphur dioxide, PM10, PM2.5 and ozone – fall short of the WHO’s highest guidelines and it will not be until 2014 at the earliest that they take effect. Tellingly, Beijing unveiled new standards before Hong Kong and the requirement for the key pollutant nitrogen dioxide was set at a tougher level.

Hong Kong has the finances and resources to make our air healthy. Guidelines should be set at the highest level to ensure we strive as best we can to attain them. Only if people are put before the companies that produce the pollution can there be a possibility that the targets are met. Our government is failing us.