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Hong Kong activists lose legal bid to challenge HK$141.5 billion third airport runway project

Court sets aside concerns over business model and sharing airspace with mainland China

Two activists and a university student challenging the controversial proposed HK$141.5 billion third airport runway at Hong Kong International Airport failed to meet the minimum requirements to mount their legal bids.

The Court of First Instance on Tuesday refused to grant permission for City University student Hui Sin-hang, League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming and social activist Koo Sze-yiu to lodge a judicial review against the Hong Kong Airport Authority [1] and the Chief Executive in Council over the planned new runway on Lantau Island.

The trio attacked the infrastructure project on various grounds, including its business model and the legality of Hong Kong’s sharing airspace with mainland China once the new runway is completed.

The applicants had to demonstrate their contentions were “reasonably arguable” before being allowed to proceed to the actual hearing. However, the court on Tuesday ruled they did not do so.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming wrote that he refused the argument put forth by Hui’s barrister Hectar Pun Hei SC, who argued that an additional fee ranging from HK$90 to HK$180 and to be levied on passengers by the authority would be unlawful.

Pun earlier argued the airport construction fee would violate “the no levy without authority” principle, stating that the government had no power to impose a fee unless conferred by law.

But Chow, citing the Airport Authority Ordinance [3], wrote that the legislature had “expressly empowered” the authority to charge the airport construction fee

Pun earlier maintained that the third runway would result in Hong Kong sharing airspace with mainland China – amounting to a violation of the Basic Law – because the city should be responsible for its own aviation management.

But the judge said that, after the shared arrangement, the Civil Aviation Administration of China [4] would only be responsible for a small portion of the city’s airspace.

At the hearing, Wong, representing himself, argued that the authority had to adhere to a commercial principle ensuring that its revenue could meet its expenditure according to the ordinance. Chow countered, however, the principle could be read loosely as the third runway was a one-off project.

Wong also argued it was unlawful for the government to relieve the authority from having to pay dividends for 10 years in support of the runway. But Chow ruled it was up to the authority to grant the dividends and not an order by the government.

Chow also rejected claims advanced by Koo, who was absent from the hearing, ruling they were similar to Wong’s.
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