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Don’t mention Heathrow

Although the Airport Authority announced on Wednesday it would look into ways to evaluate the social and environmental impact of the planned third runway, this will do little to allay the suspicions of green groups. They believe the authority does not want to carry out a proper social return on investment study (SROI) out of concern that it could sink the runway project. The authority’s initial position was that it would obey the law and pursue the environmental impact assessment process.

After the Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel unanimously called on the authority to conduct an SROI study in April, it responded that there was no accepted international methodology for conducting such a study. It was recently supported in this view by the Transport and Housing Bureau in an e-mail to the green groups: “As we have explained before, SROI is an evaluation tool rooted in the charity sector and is commonly used to evaluate the value of community projects competing for government or charity funding. We also understand that there is no commonly adopted methodology or standards for conducting SROI analysis and that no developed country adopts SROI analysis as general requirement for assessing infrastructure project proposals.”

Unfortunately there was one very significant SROI study, concluded in April 2010, that ironically concerned plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, which can hardly be described as a charity or community funding. The study concluded that the social and economic impact of the airport on Britain would be a loss of £5 billion (HK$62.6 billion), compared with the government’s estimates of a £5.5 billion gain. Unsurprisingly, the Hong Kong government and the Airport Authority aren’t keen to dwell on this report and particularly its outcome. The authority has been keen to play up the economic benefits, which it claims amount to HK$900 billion. A poll commissioned by WWF and Greenpeace found that 74 per cent of people were dissatisfied with the amount of information the authority had provided on the social and environmental aspect of the project.

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