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October 12th, 2015:

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.

Incinerator is important but planned for the wrong location

Oskar Joensson

I would like to add to the discussion about Hong Kong’s soaring waste problem.

As noted by many articles and comments on these pages, the government lacks a holistic perspective for tackling the issue. A charge on household waste is far from being implemented, there is a lack of recycling bins and sometimes cleaners even pour the separated waste into the same black bag anyway.

However, the plans for waste incineration plants seem to be quite advanced, judging from the Environmental Protection Department’s website.

The proposed incineration plants would be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, especially making a difference to the pollutant concentration in the exhaust air, which would no longer contain high dioxin levels as the plants previously operated in Hong Kong did. By now, the metals in the bottom ash can be recycled, yielding mostly iron but also valuable copper.

As easing the pressure on the landfills becomes increasingly important, waste incineration is able to play a vital role by reducing the volume of the landfill-destined waste to a fraction of the original and at the same time producing electrical energy for some 100,000 households. Yet, the progress on the projects of building waste incineration plants has been halted mainly due to opposition concerning the proposed sites of the plants. Especially, the site at Shek Kwu Chau is highly controversial, with critics arguing that reclaiming more land will have severe impact on the largely intact environment of the island as well as scaring off tourists in the area.

Another disadvantage that has gone largely unnoticed, is that it is also very inefficient to place the plant on a remote island. The plant should ideally be positioned where the waste is produced, which is in the city itself.

In Switzerland, waste incinerators are operated just next to city centres without plaguing residents with any foul smells. An elaborate smoke cleaning system, the same as proposed by the Environmental Protection Department, leaves the exhaust almost free of pollutants. Thus the often-mentioned and harmful dioxin emissions are way below the European Union threshold value, posing no health risk to the people living close to the plant.

Building the waste incineration plant in the city would diminish the environmental impact and increase the efficiency of the system dramatically. The high chimney would go largely unnoticed between the skyscrapers, leaving Shek Kwu Chau and neighbouring islands beautiful places to visit.

Oskar Joensson, Clear Water Bay