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Public input welcome, as long as it favours Airport Authority’s plans

Public input welcome, as long as it favours Airport Authority’s plans
Howard Winn
May 29, 2012

The Airport Authority issues its project profile today for building the third runway at Chek Lap Kok and triggers the start of a statutory process that gives the public a mere 14 days to send comments to the director of the Environmental Protection Department. These comments are then supposed to be taken into account when the department prepares an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study brief that sets out what the EIA needs to consider.

This is a key stage of the process, because the judge who presided over the judicial review of the Hong Kong-Zhuhau-Macau bridge said that this was the time to object to and comment on the project, rather than after the EIA report was produced.

Fourteen days is the standard period to lodge comments, but given the size and significance of this project, a longer period would have been appropriate, assuming that is, the government is really interested in the public’s views. You get the sense that the current administration is only interested so long as the public agrees with its plans. The authority has made much of a survey it commissioned that found 73 per cent of respondents favoured building the third runway. A subsequent survey for the WWF and Greenpeace found more than 73 per cent believe it is important to consider the social and environmental costs when building the runway.

In its press statement yesterday, the authority appeared to be bending over backwards to appear accessible, transparent and so on.

“To facilitate stakeholders’ exchange of views, AAHK will set up technical briefing groups and invite environmental experts, green NGOs, industry representatives and relevant government officials … with a view to addressing the potential environmental impacts arising from HKIA’s [Hong Kong International Airport’s] expansion to a three-runway system.” There’s even going to be an electronic newsletter to keep the public informed of the EIA process and studies. This is all very encouraging, but it would take a massive change in the authority’s aloof culture for this to be a meaningful exercise.

Despite the authority’s apparent conversion to openness and transparency, the one thing it won’t be doing is conducting a social return on investment study. This is a study that examines the impact of the project on the community at large. Indeed, the Legislative Council’s environmental panel asked the airport to conduct one, together with a carbon audit and a strategic assessment.

When we asked the authority if it intended to comply, we received the lofty reply that there was no generally accepted methodology for these studies and, in any case, it wasn’t obliged by law to conduct one. That may be true, but given that the authority has pledged to make Hong Kong’s airport the greenest in the world, you’d have expected a more enlightened response.

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