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March, 2015:

Hong Kong airspace ‘too crowded’ for third runway expansion, say experts

Hong Kong’s crowded airspace is like a “saturated water pipe” and would prevent a multi-billion dollar third runway at the city’s international airport from meeting its expansion target, the former Observatory chief said today.

Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying cast doubts on the cost-effectiveness and financing plan of the proposed HK$141.5 billion third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport, saying that airspace in the Pearl River Delta was already too busy to accommodate more flights.

Upon its planned completion in 2023, the runway will reportedly allow Chek Lap Kok airport to serve 30 million more passengers a year.

But speaking during an RTHK radio show, Lam gave the example of a newly-built third runway at Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport. He said the facility, opened in February, had increased the airport’s traffic by just 10 flights per day because of a lack of airspace in the region.

Hong Kong airport faced the same problem, said Lam, who is now convener of concern group People’s Aviation Watch.

“The flights have to enter an airway that is now like a saturated water pipe,” he said. “Even with an extra runway, you cannot send more flights into the skies”.

His view was echoed by former civil aviation department head Lam Kwon-yu, who said officials had so far failed to give details on whether mainland China would allow Hong Kong to use some of its airspace.

The former aviation chief agreed that without more airspace, a third runway would not meet its expansion target.

He said Hong Kong could reorganise its airport resources to focus on providing more international flights when cross-border links such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high speed rail link to the mainland are completed in future.

“Hong Kong should make more use of its advantage, which is our international network,” he said. He added that this could attract mainland travellers to use Hong Kong’s international flights.

Lam Chiu-ying was also opposed to the current financing plan – in which funds are to be drawn internally from the Airport Authority’s surpluses, user charges – said to be HK$180 per departing passenger – and external financing via bank loans and bonds.

The authority will also stop paying annual dividends to the government – its sole shareholder – denying the public purse of about HK$50 billion over the next 10 years, based on last year’s figures.

Lam Chiu-ying said raising funds via loans and bonds would make the airport vulnerable to the external economic environment. He said there was a risk, although it looked small, of the authority being left in the red if the global economy receded significantly.

“In that case the airport may go to the hands of foreign investors,” he said. “The airport holds a strategically significant position from the national defence point of view. It cannot afford to go into foreign hands.”

He said the authority should drop the current financing plan and instead seek public funds from the Legislative Council.

Economists however, said that the authority’s plan to finance the third runway is viable and that an expected rise in US interest rates should have little impact on the plan.

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Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, director of the ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research, said that the expected increase in United States interest rates will not be large. It means that it will not push up the interest rate of the authority’s external financing via bank loans and bonds by much.

“If the authority wants to lower the controversy generated by the runway’s cost, it can issue more bonds,” he said.

Bank of East Asia chief economist Paul Tang Sai-on said the financing plan is feasible because it is a “multiple-channel approach”.

“A multiple-channel approach is the best option because it reduces the risk,” he said.

He said Hongkongers should not just look at how much the runway will cost, but how much returns the authority will be able to generate.

Chek Lap Kok airport served more than 63 million passengers and processed 4.4 million tonnes of cargo last year.

Source URL (modified on Mar 18th 2015, 6:11pm):

Approval of third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport does not answer questions about airspace

Hongkongers were no closer to understanding how regional airspace issues would be solved, after approval was granted yesterday for the construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport that would spell busier skies above the city.

The government would say only that the “problems will no longer exist” in five years, as it remained tight-lipped about whether Hong Kong could eventually circumvent a “sky wall” imposed by the mainland between the city and the national airspace.

The sky wall means outbound planes must fly circles to reach at least 4,800 metres, at which they can then enter mainland airspace. This obstacle will still exist with a third runway.

With the extra airstrip, the city can increase its current 68 flights per hour to 102, according to Airport Authorityforecasts, but critics say the target can be met only if the mainland concedes some of its airspace to Hong Kong.

A “directional plan” forged in 2007 was already in place, a government spokesman said ahead of the news that the Executive Council had given the go-ahead to build the third runway, now budgeted at HK$141.5 billion.

The plan set “short and medium objectives” for Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen to meet by 2020, he said. The three jurisdictions belong to a working group formed in 2004 to resolve issues of airspace amid growing traffic in the Pearl River Delta region.

The spokesman did not elaborate on what the talks had produced, only stressing that the three parties would work to achieve unified standards, procedures and arrangements to share airspace.

“The problems everyone is concerned about will no longer exist in 2020,” he said.

He tried to allay concerns about the sky wall, saying that global aviation regulations required all aircraft to enter another jurisdiction’s airspace at 4,800 metres anyway. He also downplayed the idea of boosting the two current runways’ capacity by shaving the peaks off several hills, saying that this was not “environmentally viable”.

Melonie Chau Yuet-ngor, of the People’s Aviation Watch concern group, said this was “deliberately misleading” as a 1992 master plan only stated two mountains, not in country parks, needed to be shaved.

Wu Chi-wai, transport policy spokesman for the Democratic Party, questioned the transparency of airspace management. He urged the government to explain why the dual-runway system failed to achieve its design capacity of 88 flights per hour.

Source URL (modified on Mar 18th 2015, 5:22am):

Government approves plan for third runway

The government has given its approval for a third runway at Chek Lap Kok.

The decision was welcomed by the Airport Authority, which said expanding the airport was crucial to consolidating Hong Kong as an aviation hub.

The Secretary for Transport, Anthony Cheung, said the estimated cost would be HK$141.5 billion. The project will be financed by the Airport Authority through internal funds, external borrowing, and charging passengers.

Professor Cheung noted that the airport charges at the Hong Kong were among the lowest studied in a consultancy report, so there was room to raise them further.

About 650 hectares of land will be reclaimed from the sea for the runway and a new passenger building. Construction is expected to be completed by 2023.

Hong Kong’s airport expects to reach maximum capacity under its current layout by 2022 at the latest.

Exco gives green light for Airport Authority to seek funding for third runway

The Executive Council on Tuesday gave airport officials the green light to seek funds and build a HK$141.5 billion third airport runway, despite widespread opposition from activists and environmental groups.

Taxpayers are to be spared any expense, with funding to come internally through the Airport Authority’s own “healthy” surpluses, airport charges for visitors and carriers, and external financing through bonds.

The airport will also forfeit annual dividends to the government – the authority’s biggest shareholder.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the airport was fast reaching maximum capacity and the third runway was needed to maintain the city’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Cheung said carrier charges at Chek Lap Kok were among the lowest in the world and there was room to raise them further.

Airport Authority chief Fred Lam Tin-fuk said the funding proposal was the fairest and most appropriate method based on a “user pays” principle.

He did not answer directly whether the financing plan was designed to bypass the Legislative Council finance committee. “We don’t think it is fair to make taxpayers pay for other visitors,” he said.

Source URL (modified on Mar 17th 2015, 8:01pm):


Most Hong Kong private sector green belt rezoning applications rejected, study finds

Study provides ammunition for opponents of government plans to rezone edge-of-town land and construct thousands of new flats

Planners have shot down more than 80 per cent of applications from private companies to rezone green belt land for housing over the past 18 years, often for fear of setting an “undesirable precedent”, a study shows.

The findings add fuel to green groups’ opposition to government plans to turn 150 hectares of green belt over for housing – a key plank of its ambitious target of adding 480,000 new homes by 2015. Researchers behind the study urged the Town Planning Board to ensure it treated government applications the same way it did those from developers.

The Planning Department’s applications to rezone 70 such sites are at a critical stage, as the board vets the first batch.

The board has so far approved 11 and vetoed three government applications. That means some 27 hectares of land will be available to provide 16,000 flats.

But the government suffered its first setback last month, when the board struck down rezoning proposals for two sites in Tai Po.

The government says the green sites it wants developed have little conservation value, though some board members have pointed out that that was never the green belt’s purpose. Instead it was intended to stop urban sprawl and set a boundary between town and country.


Using public data, Chinese University’s Centre for Environmental Policy and Resource Management examined 37 private applications to rezone green belt sites for flats, made between 1997 and last year. The board rejected 30.

The study was commissioned by the owners’ committee of Dynasty Heights in Shek Kip Mei, which is opposing a government rezoning plan for a nearby site.

Among the 30 rejections, the board cited fear of setting an “undesirable precedent” in 24. Other oft-cited factors included insufficient information from applicants, in 19 cases, and a contradiction with green belt planning intentions, in 15. Some were turned down because of potential adverse impact on the landscape or environment. Planners can give multiple grounds for rejecting an application.

Dr Joanna Lee Wai-ying, who led the study, said: “The board has been a strict gatekeeper over the years and would not lightly allow development plans on green belt sites. If the government itself is doing this, it appears [it is] holding a different standard.” She warned that a change of policy could offer justification for developers to make similar requests to encroach on green belt land.

Dr Tony Leung Ka-tung, chairman of the Institute of Surveyors’ planning and development division, believed developers would still struggle to secure rezoning on green belt sites.

“For each application, the developer has to convince the board that it meets requirements on sewerage, drainage, traffic, environment and other matters. I don’t think the board will relax its standards.”

He said he supported the government’s plan because increasing land supply was key to cooling property prices.

Source URL (modified on Mar 12th 2015, 2:04am):

Zero Waste practices from San Francisco (USA) and Contarina (Italy) show transition is possible

The front-runners in the US and the EU when it comes to waste management presented their experiences in Brussels in March 4. A selected audience composed of members of the European Parliament, European Commission officials and stakeholders learned about the good practices from San Francisco and the province of Treviso in northern Italy.

In the event Joan-Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe presented the zero waste philosophy and how it is necessary to design products without toxics and keeping in mind how they will be reintroduced into the technical or natural cycle, the necessity to optimise separate collection and finally reduce resource use. It was also made clear the difference between Zero Waste to Landfill and real Zero Waste by comparing both approaches with concrete examples of performance.


The event continued with the presentation of Kurt Vandenberghe, Director for Climate Action and Resource Efficiency in the European Commission. Mr Vandenberghe welcomed the initiative to organise a workshop about best practices and noted that ecoefficiency fixes are important but they will not be enough to reverse the current unsustainability trend and changes in the way we produce and consume will be needed. Moreover confirmed the commitment of the EC to present a more ambitious proposal for the Circular Economy which takes into account waste and products.

Jack Macy from the Zero Waste program in the city of San Francisco started his presentation building the link between waste and climate policy, with the experience of carbon capture by using compost on rangeland. He went on to present the exerience of San Francisco, based on the “fantastic three”; separate collection door-to-door in three waste streams, organic waste, recyclables and residuals. The system is optimised with pay-as-you-throw which makes waste generators pay according to how much waste they take out. Prevention measures such as banning single-use plastic carrier bags, single-use plastic water-bottles or extended polistyrene complete a model which represents the state of the art in the US.

Marco Mattiello presented the most succesful practice in Europe so far, in which the district of 550,000 people covered by Contarina has achieved recycling rates of 85% and residual waste rates -what is sent for disposal after recycling- of only 53kg. But faithful to the zero waste spirit Contarina wants to continue improving and has set itself recycling targets of 96,7% and prevention targets of reducing 80% which will mean producing only 10kg per person per year –average residual wste in EU is 250kg-. Mattiello showed how in Contarina this has helped reduce costs and create jobs.

JM Simon concluded the event by highlighting the fact that these transitions have taken place in less than a decade and hence prove that it is possible to achieve high separate collections rates in less time than what is needed to build an incinerator plant. Simon noted that three factors have made possible these initiatives; political leadeship, source separation of organics and not having invested into incineration capacity, and warned that the European Commission has been stopping separate collection of organic waste since 15 years and has been facilitating growth of incineration since 10 years. These are two things that need to change in order to make possible a circular economy.

No global warming for last 18 years

SCMP Letters to the Editor

We are advised that in order to better meet a 2007 agreement in combating “global warming”, our government is to implement further measures to reduce energy consumption.

I am all for reducing the waste in the use of energy – a laudable if futile aim, particularly if it is being done in order to reduce global warming – and reduction in pollution. However, please refrain from telling us that the essential trace gas carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

It is amazing that our government maintains, strengthens even, its agenda in relation to global warming when there has been no global warming at all for the last 18 years and counting. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that.

G. Bailey, Ta Kwu Ling

We should all try to cut back on food waste

SCMP Letters to the Editor

All Hongkongers will have enjoyed traditional food during the Lunar New Year, such as turnip cakes, rice cakes, braised vegetables and red fermented beancurd.

All these feasts will have generated a substantial amount of food waste.

We all need to reflect on the part we play in discarding so much food. How many of us, during our festive feasts, left our plates empty?

With my family, I ate poon choi on the first and second days of the new year. We could not finish it all, but instead of throwing it away kept it as leftovers.

As well as trying to use leftover food at home, when we’re out, we should order less food. And if it is a set meal, for example, in a Chinese restaurant with a lot of different dishes, you can go without rice so you have room for other dishes.

There is a Chinese saying, “May you always get more than you wish for”. And it has long been a Chinese tradition to order more food than you will need to eat.

This is a bad habit and we need to change attitudes. We should only order what we need and not throw away the food that we do not eat.

Chan Yue-ching, Kowloon Tong

Put recycling bins at more locations

SCMP Letters to the Editor

The letter by Yannis Mak (“Recycling policy put on back burner”, March 3) reminded me of some concerns regarding recycling bins.

When you see recycling bins outside a building, you have to ask if it makes sense to have only three of them outside a 39-storey public housing block with roughly 16 apartments on each level.

So there are three little bins to hold all the recyclable material from around 600 households. It gives the impression that these bins are placed outside housing blocks by the government for decoration.

Recycling bins have been situated outside these buildings for years and yet little has changed.

Why doesn’t the relevant government department place these bins on each floor of a housing block? It is not easy to change old habits and get people to adopt new, environmentally-friendly ones, but having facilities like bins within easy reach is a big step forward.

I am also concerned about plastic recycling. I understand plastic bottles that are placed in the recycling bin are ending up in our landfills, because plastic recycling is not profitable. There are citizens who still care but they are put off by government indifference.

Officials must make recycling in Hong Kong more effective.

Debbie Cheng, Tseung Kwan O