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Nature Conservation

Don’t sacrifice Hong Kong’s country parks for a housing quick fix

4 January 2015

Roger Nissim

The restarting of a regular land sale programme in 2013 after a 10-year hiatus is one of the real positive actions of the Leung Chun-ying administration as it struggles to plug the huge gap in housing supply. There is no quick fix for this situation. There is no such thing as “instant” flats and the public needs to understand it will probably take another four to five years before an equilibrium can be found between supply and demand.

I am, however, deeply concerned that, in their desire to find quick fixes for the shortage of land, both Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po and Secretary for Housing and Transport Anthony Cheung Bing-leung are starting to try to convince us that it is appropriate to consider rezoning green-belt sites and look at the possible use of land within country parks. These are both bad ideas and should not, as suggested by Cheung recently, be considered as one of the trade-offs necessary to achieve these short-term objectives.

Let us first consider green-belt sites. According to statutory outline zoning plans, the intention of this land-use zoning “is primarily for the conservation of the existing natural environment amid the built-up areas/at the urban fringe, to safeguard it from encroachment by urban-type development, and to provide additional outlets for passive recreational activities. There is a general presumption against development within this zone”.

Country parks are covered by the Country Parks Ordinance. The Country and Marine Parks Authority is mandated to “encourage their use and development for purposes of recreation and tourism”, “protect the vegetation and wildlife”, and “preserve and maintain building sites of historic and cultural significance”. There is a “presumption against any new development”.

Some 24 country parks have now been designated for the purpose of nature conservation, countryside recreation and outdoor education.

The wording here is unambiguous. It makes clear that these lands should be left alone to serve their existing statutory public purpose. The two policy secretaries are in fact encouraging both the Town Planning Board and the Country and Marine Parks Board, as well as the public, to overlook, and even subvert, their statutory responsibilities.

It is also worth reminding all concerned that, since 2011, the Hong Kong government has been committed to following the requirements of the international Convention on Biological Diversity and will be consulting the public this year on its Bio-diversity Strategy and Action Plan. This will require action not only to preserve country and marine parks but also to expand and enhance them.

Such tracts of land are attractive to the administration as, in the main, they are government-owned so there will be little or no cost of land resumption. But this would be a false economy.

By definition, the land is remote, likely to be hilly with trees, lacking suitable infrastructure such as roads and drains and at best could only be used for low-density, low-rise development. This would not be a good trade-off; the relatively small number of units provided could never justify the damage that would be done.

So what are the alternatives? Make better use of existing “brownfield” sites. There are some 600 redundant industrial buildings in urban areas which are now 40 to 50 years old and whose replacement with modern residential buildings would constitute positive urban renewal.

With the completion of MTR extensions west to Kennedy Town and south to Ap Lei Chau, all the old industrial buildings in Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau and Kennedy Town should be rezoned for residential use. All these areas have the infrastructure in place and are obvious targets for development. Lease modifications should be fast-tracked and, if multiple ownership is a problem, government resumption is an option.

The 2014 policy address identified 257 hectares of agricultural land in North and Yuen Long districts that are used mainly for industrial purposes or temporary storage, or which are deserted. This land should be pushed forward for early development.

Finally, the government should have the courage of its convictions and press ahead with the new town proposals in the
New Territories.
If 200 or so farmers are affected, as in the case of the proposed development in Fanling North, that is the price to pay if over 70,000 people can be adequately housed as a result. Surely, that’s a lesson in democracy, where the benefit of the majority should override the concerns of the adequately compensated minority.

So the message is clear: leave our green belt and country park land alone, and focus on other much more productive sites.

Roger Nissim is an adjunct professor in the Department of Real Estate and Construction at the University of Hong Kong.

Lamma islanders warned over pile of waste they cleared from beach

02 November, 2014

Lana Lam

Far from the heart of Occupy Central, one woman is battling the government bureaucracy over accusations of a different kind of illegal occupation.

Long-time Lamma Island resident Jo Wilson, 45, has drawn the battle lines over the Yung Shue Wan waterfront rather than roads and government buildings.

Fed up with seeing piles of litter strewn along the coastline, the mother of two started a 42-day clean-up project, picking up all manner of rubbish that had washed on to the shore, with the help of dozens of volunteers.

Every morning since September 21, Wilson has gone to the beach, laboriously sieving sand to separate bits of glass, plastic and polystyrene as well as collecting construction waste.

Yesterday was the 42nd and final day – the figure is a nod to the number of kilometres that marathon runners cover during a race.

But little did she suspect that her sustained efforts – along with those of parents and children who have given up their time – would be rewarded with a warning from the Lands Department.

Two weeks ago, she was startled to find a letter from the department on top of a large pile of rubbish that volunteers had collected and placed in a corner.

The letter stated that the debris had to be moved as it was an “illegal occupation” of the land.

“Does that mean we are all liable to prosecution for cleaning up?” Wilson said.

She contacted several government departments and was met by a wall of bureaucracy, with reasons including that the area was not gazetted as a beach and interdepartmental confusion over responsibility for the rubbish.

Eventually, she found Food and Environmental Hygiene Department staff to help collect the rubbish.

A spokeswoman for the Lands Department said it knew about the clean-up but received complaints about the waste pile. Issuing the notice was routine procedure, she added.

Wilson said it was not the first time she had come up against officialdom.

About five years ago, she helped form local advocacy group Living Lamma. They wrote dozens of reports on environmental problems on Lamma and submitted them to the relevant Legislative Council bodies, but the group’s efforts were futile.

“We wrote reports; it didn’t work. We cleaned up beaches; it didn’t work,” she said.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“We’ve occupied the beach with love and peace,” she said, in a nod to the official name of the Occupy Central movement.

“It will continue and I will continue. We’ve got to have a new normal, but what we need is participation.”

On Friday, a group of children from the Banyan House preschool joined Wilson to clean up the area. Maeve Cheng accompanied her three-year-old son Tak to pick up rubbish as well as good practices: “If you learn from an early age that you should recycle, it becomes a habit.”

Government seeks to end waste site construction on green belt

17 Oct 2014

Conor McGlone

Developers will find it more difficult to get planning consent to build waste facilities in the green belt under new government rules.

In an update to the national planning policy for waste, published on 16 October, the government said companies and councils looking to develop facilities will have to look for suitable sites on brownfield land before exploring other options.

Responses to a consultation on waste policy, which ran from July, were released on the same day, confirming that planning permission to develop waste facilities on green belt land would only be approved under “very special circumstances”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said these measures would ensure the green belt could continue to offer a “strong defence” against urban sprawl in towns and cities, and would “bring waste into line with the policies on other development”.

The new rules also mean that councils can no longer give special consideration to needs based on location or the wider economic benefits of a potential site, over other considerations as justification for building waste facilities on green belt land.

The update follows the release of statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) showing that green belt land, which makes up 13% of England’s land area, declined by 0.03% last year.

Total green belt land fell by 540 hectares to a total of 1.6 million hectares in 2013/14. Three local authorities – Rochford, South Gloucestershire and West Lancashire – reduced the size of their green belt land last year.

Planning guidance on housing, published on 6 October, stated that green belt boundaries should only be changed in “exceptional cases” and any unmet housing need would not justify the harm done to the green belt by “inappropriate development”.

Concerns over “inflexible” policy

While the policy states that planning authorities should consider “any adverse effect on a site of international importance for nature conservation” and any waste facilities should operate without “harming the environment”, some environmental groups have voiced concerns over the government’s appetite for brownfield development.

Earlier this month, the Land Trust and Buglife argued that a large number of brownfield sites are not suitable for development due to their value to society and the environment as public open spaces.

In addition, three quarters of respondents to the government’s consultation said its updated policy on waste was “not flexible enough” and would have “a negative impact” on the industry.

According to a report from the Green Investment Bank published in July, the UK needs to invest an extra £5bn into waste infrastructure in order to close the residual waste capacity gap over the next six years (

That is equivalent to building ten EfW plants a year for the rest of the decade at a capital cost of £750 per tonne.

It was also felt that applications for new anaerobic digestion and composting plants could be blocked under the rules, despite being better suited to rural locations that are closer to their feedstocks.

Respondents were also concerned that the change in policy approach could lead to facilities being located further from waste arisings, leading to higher carbon emissions from transportation.

Despite this, the government confirmed it would push on with hardening planning rules because it attached “great importance to the protection of the green belt

Plea to reject airport runway impact study

Wednesday, 08 October, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai

Activists question whether advisers acted within law in endorsing report

Green activists yesterday stepped up pressure on the government to reject the environmental impact assessment report on the planned third runway at Chek Lap Kok, questioning the way the government’s advisers endorsed the report.

But they said they had not yet decided whether to launch a legal challenge if the report was accepted by the director of environmental protection later this month. The call followed the endorsement by the Advisory Council on the Environment last month of the Airport Authority’s study of the assessment.

“I regret the council’s decision,” Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said.

“We just can’t accept it. What the authority did was just camouflage to conceal [the fact that it] had nothing to offer at all,” he told a special meeting of the Legislative Council’s economic development and environmental affairs panel.

The meeting also heard from supporters of the runway – mostly from the aviation and logistics industries – who said Hong Kong would pay a high economic price if the project was dumped.

“We have learned a painful lesson of losing our port business to Shenzhen after we hesitated over whether to build more port terminals,” said Pang Chor-fu, an executive director of the Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association.

Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries and unions also backed the project, as did taxi groups.

Green activists said they would not blindly oppose development but felt it was time to reconsider Hong Kong’s practice of using infrastructure projects to drive economic growth. They also questioned whether the council had acted within the law in endorsing the report.

WWF Hong Kong marine conservationist Samantha Lee Mei-wah urged the director not to approve the report, which she said was “substandard”.

Tang Kin-fai, assistant director of environmental protection, said the department and the council had both adhered to the law. “There was neither concealment nor conspiracy,” he told lawmakers at the meeting.

The third runway project will require reclamation of 650 hectares of sea that is a known habitat for the threatened Chinese white dolphin.

Disturbing U-turn on flawed environmental report for third runway

Friday, 12 September, 2014

Samantha Lee

The Advisory Council on the Environment will meet on Monday to discuss whether to advise the Environmental Protection Department to give the green light to the third-runway plan. After a closed-door meeting of the council’s impact assessment subcommittee last week, the majority of members now appear to support endorsing the Airport Authority’s environmental impact report.

This is a complete reversal from last month, when most council members criticised the measures proposed to lessen the project’s effect on Chinese white dolphins. What made them change their mind?

Two main concerns were initially raised. First, the proposal for a marine park was deemed “too little, too late”, as it would not be located in a key dolphin habitat and would only be set up after the construction phase.

Second, nothing was proposed to lessen the impact on the dolphins of the more than 300 vessels travelling daily in and around the construction site. In addition, the species would suffer a permanent loss of 650 hectares of habitat.

Then came the turnaround. On September 1, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department suddenly announced that it was ready to designate two new marine parks – proposed 14 years ago – off Lantau Island by 2017.

The department has denied any link between these new parks and plans for the third runway. Yet, one day after the announcement, the council’s impact assessment subcommittee held another meeting, at which the majority of members said they would approve the Airport Authority’s environmental impact assessment report for the third runway.

The reasons for this U-turn are difficult to fathom.

The marine park announcement cannot be used to facilitate approval of the third runway. If members really want the two marine parks to help alleviate the project’s impact on the dolphins, they need to be discussed in the context of the third runway; the first step being an extension of the new parks’ boundaries to link up with existing marine parks near Tai O. Some council members may also have been swayed by the Airport Authority’s new 30-page plan released on September 2, which suggests financing conservation and research on marine ecology and fisheries. Yet there are doubts about some of the scientific claims in the report. Further, the authority describes it as “supplementary information”, casting doubt on whether the suggestions would actually be implemented.

Then there is the fact that the plan lacks any effective measures to alleviate or compensate for the loss of marine habitat caused by reclamation work during the building of the third runway.

In fact, none of the proposed marine parks would lessen the impact of the large-scale reclamation work. So why the sudden change of heart by council members when no progress has been made? It’s disturbing, when the authority’s impact assessment report clearly remains substandard and flawed.

Council members must make decisions in the best interest of Hong Kong’s environment. If the impact of the project cannot be properly addressed with the proposed measures, then the council is duty-bound to reject the impact assessment report.

Villagers in northern Lantau destroy mangrove in protest over potential restrictions

Monday, 25 August, 2014

Ernest Kao

Dozens of villagers in northern Lantau chopped down a mangrove near an ecologically sensitive bay yesterday to protest against a government move to zone areas on the fringes of their villages as protected land.

Excavators were brought in to raze trees, while machete- and hoe-wielding villagers chopped down shrubs on the coast of Tai Ho Wan, which is known for its oyster-rich mudflats and horseshoe crabs.

Together with the three rivers that feed it, Tai Ho Wan is now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but not yet zoned as such. Statutory planning rules would ensure government departments give due consideration to conservation if the proposal was approved later this year.

But indigenous villagers of the San Heung community, which includes Pak Mong, Ngau Kwu Long and Tai Ho villages, fear their rights to farm and build small houses will be restricted if the restrictive development plans are agreed to.

“Step by step, the government has been depriving us land owners of our rightful use of land, which was originally designated for agricultural use,” the community said in a declaration in which they also demanded to meet the development and environment ministers.

They blamed construction of the North Lantau Highway in the 1990s for blocking discharge from the river and flooding coastal farmland. The indigenous villagers said in their declaration that the government had “bullied” them again in 1999 with the SSSI designation.

“All we want is to return our farmland to agricultural use without any prior conditions,” said Ngau Kwu Long village spokesman Lam Chu. “You can’t just take away our land without our consent or compensation.”

Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung showed up to support the villagers’ protest yesterday.

Green groups were outraged at the destruction of the mangrove. “I’m furious. This is disrespectful,” said Eddie Tse Sai-kit of the Save Lantau Alliance. “If they really cared for the land and wanted to farm it, then they would not do such as thing.”

Tse said most of the private land in the enclave had been sold to developers in the 1990s.

“It is worth questioning whether they’re really doing this for the right to build small houses,” he said.

Under an interim development plan covering 230 hectares, gazetted in March, the villages’ development zones are limited to 1.27 hectares, which the villagers say constrains their right to build small houses.

“It’s a lie … Most villagers just want to transfer their small-house rights for a profit,” said Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong. “If they wanted to farm they would have done so long ago.”

Clear the Air says:

This just in:

附上大蠔、白芒、牛牯塱一帶的land search,未100%完成,不過餘下未做的大多是原居民持有。除了置地外,幾乎所有公司都未能直接與發展商連上關係,但經調查後公司的關係應如下:
Jet Channel Development Company Limited – 新鴻基

Tongking International Limited

Tong Mu International Limited

Lucky Pearl Investments Limited – 太古地產

Corona Land Company Limited – 置地

Greenmatch Company Limited – 俊文地產(即俊文珠寶家族)

Monat Investment Limited

Wrencrest Estates Limited – 永常集團胡永輝家族

Union Key Investment Limited 由律師行代持,未知幕後老闆

New Century Device Company Limited 為 BVI,未知幕後老闆
另再覆查後, 張建東已於2009年辭去新鴻基的非執行董事職位,

Department failing to stop pollution of pristine Hoi Ha Wan

Monday, 25 August, 2014

I refer to the report (“Tai Po beach clears court hurdle [1]”, August 13). Why does the government rush ahead with this project when water quality in existing beaches is deteriorating?

I refer specifically to Hoi Ha Wan. I have been swimming there regularly since 2006 and the water has always been crystal clear. Since 2014, its shallow waters have turned markedly murky and foamy.

Most of the farmland in Pak Sha O village, adjacent to a stream that feeds into Hoi Ha Wan, has been bought by developers.

The Lands Department is more agreeable to approving village house applications on cultivated farmland. Therefore, land at Pak Sha O is being farmed for vegetables. I suspect there is massive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which is now finding its way to Hoi Ha Wan via the stream. This may have caused a rapid deterioration of seawater quality.

A high standard of water quality in Hoi Ha Wan must be maintained for at least two reasons.

First, about 100,000 people use it and its beaches for recreation annually. The government should have the health of these people at heart.

Second, the biggest and prettiest coral colonies in Hong Kong are found there and the surrounding seas. This is one of Hong Kong’s irreplaceable treasures. Corals are extremely sensitive to chemicals. Adding more toxic chemicals and waste products to Hoi Ha Wan waters will impact on marine life negatively.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department declined to have the near-shore water quality checked, because it has subcontracted the work of monitoring Hoi Ha Wan water quality, until March 2015, to a third party.

The department should have located the monitoring station closer to shore and corals where it matters, but it was located one kilometre away.

The future looks dire for Hoi Ha Wan and Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. Recent outline zoning plans show more village houses will be located close to streams and shoreline.

These locations are much sought after by developers for their scenic value. Without central sewage treatment, chemicals and grey water from new houses will reach Hoi Ha Wan. In time, it could be renamed Hoi Ha sewage pit.

Village house development is lucrative. This creates pressure on government departments to “facilitate” by bending their own rules. We must remain vigilant to protect our country and marine parks.

Tom Hou, Sai Kung

Government accused of marine park pledge to take pressure off bid for third runway

Ernest Kao

Tuesday, 02 September, 2014

In the midst of environmental hearings on a proposed third runway, conservation authorities have made a surprise pledge to designate two new marine parks off Lantau Island by 2017.

The announcement was made as government advisers continued deliberation on the Airport Authority’s environmental report on the proposed additional runway at Chek Lap Kok.

[1]The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the announcement, which ends a 12-year impasse, was not related to the runway proposal.

It said it was a response to public concern and part of its own Chinese white dolphin conservation programme.

The proposed parks will cover 660 hectares off southwest Lantau and 1,270 hectares around the Soko Islands archipelago, in a bid to enhance protection for the endangered dolphin and finless porpoise.

But Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu suspected the move was made by the government to take pressure off the authority.

“The authority’s [report] and the long-delayed designation of the two marine parks cannot be grouped together.

“We never said this could be a compensation measure for the third runway and it cannot be one. Marine parks cannot mitigate the [650 hectares of] habitat loss,” he said.

He urged subcommittee members of the Advisory Council on the Environment, who will meet today, not to accept the new plans as justification for the airport expansion.

An authority spokesman said the government’s latest park plan was not part of its report but it would “complement” its own conservation measures to protect the dolphin population.

“We will launch another round of public engagement in 2015 and take other necessary steps and seek to complete the statutory procedure for the designation by early 2017,” a department spokesman said.

Proposals to designate the two marine parks span back to 2002 but never came to fruition due to opposition from the fisheries sector and Lantau residents.

Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, a senior programme head at WWF Hong Kong, said the move was welcome, but was not enough. “There is a consensus among scientists that [dolphin] habitat can only be protected by linking up the parks along the Tai O fringe, to the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park,” he said.

The authority’s proposal for a 2,400 hectare marine park connecting Sha Chau and another proposed park northeast of Lantau has been dismissed as ineffectual as it would be designated only after the runway’s completion in 2023.

Lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin, of the agriculture and fisheries sector, said the industry would likely oppose the park plan if it hurt fishermen’s livelihoods.

He said that on issue would be whether fishing permits for the marine parks would be allowed to be transferable.

“The government will have to consult the industry further,” Ho said.

The Country and Marine Parks Board will be consulted on the draft maps at a “suitable time” before it is published for public inspection, the department said.

Marine parks to shield white dolphins”

Plans to designate southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands as marine parks were announced yesterday, 12 years after they were first gazetted.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Plans to designate southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands as marine parks were announced yesterday, 12 years after they were first gazetted.

The marine parks will be part of efforts to protect important habitats of Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is hoping to complete the statutory procedures for the parks by early 2017. Plans were first gazetted in 2002.

Southwest Lantau and the Soko Islands are major habitats of these mammals. The conservation areas will cover about 660 hectares of water off Lantau and 1,270 hectares of water off the Sokos.

This is part of a program to enhance survival of the dolphin population in the Pearl River Estuary, a department spokesman said. KENNETH LAU

Airport Authority expert’s ‘fairy-tale’ predictions about marine park questioned

Government advisers on Monday were highly sceptical of the Airport Authority’s assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed third runway at the airport, with one expert consultant’s predictions about a new marine park questioned.

But the authority said they were “confident” the environmental advisers would eventually give a green light to the project.

The remarks came on the first of three days of meetings being held by the Advisory Council on the Environment, which will offer its view to the government on whether measures outlined by the Airport Authority for offsetting the environmental impact of a third runway are sufficient.

The authority has proposed designating a nearby site as a marine park in 2023 after the runway is built. It’s consultant, marine biologist Dr Thomas Jefferson, said numbers of Chinese white dolphins living in the north Lantau area would drop during construction but rebound later when the marine park is designated.

“Dolphins are very complex animals … they have the ability to move around,” Jefferson had said in June.

Council member Dr Hung Wing-tat said the authority needed to present data showing how many Chinese white dolphins would return to the area once the proposed 2,400 hectare marine park – connecting the existing Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park with a planned Brothers Islands marine park – is designated.

Watch: SCMP took a look at Hong Kong’s pink dolphin habitat

“You speak of creating a fairy tale … a paradise … How can you make sure that in seven years time [in 2023] there will be peace in that area for the dolphins? How can you ensure that there won’t be any other disturbing activities?” he asked.

“This will set a very bad a priori case for any [future] project… Others may have the same theory [that the dolphins will come back] too.”

Jefferson had based his prediction in part on the experience of dolphins returning to the area after the initial construction of the airport at Chek Lap Kok.

This was dismissed by council member Dr Gary Ades as “comparing a grape with an apple”.

But Peter Lee, the authority’s general manager for environmental projects, said he was confident the council would eventually give them the green light.

“We are confident that our mitigation measures … are sufficient and appropriate for mitigating the impacts from our projects.”

The authority on Monday revealed four additional measures to mitigate the impacts of the project on the dolphins, including a cap on the number of high-speed ferries from the SkyPier at its current level of 99 per day and conducting night studies on dolphin activity.

A coalition of green groups including the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, Greenpeace, WWF-Hong Kong and Friends of the Earth protested next to the venue of the meeting.

They urged the council not to rubber stamp the authority’s mitigation proposals and to reject them.

WWF-HK assistant conservation manager Samantha Lee Klaus said the authority was adopting a “destroy first, conserve later” approach.

Monday, 11 August, 2014

Third runway decision on hold over dolphin habitat concerns

Wednesday, 20 August, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai

Airport officials’ measures to protect dolphins during building of third airstrip ‘unconvincing’, says subcommittee studying impact report

Prospects for a proposed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport seemed uncertain yesterday as environment advisers delayed their decision on whether to approve its environmental impact assessment study.

The advisers – from a subcommittee under the Advisory Council on the Environment – were concerned about how adequate and effective measures to mitigate the project’s impact on the threatened Chinese white dolphin habitat would be.

If the study is approved and the HK$130 billion project is given the go-ahead, some 650 hectares of prime habitat for the shrinking dolphin population would be lost to land reclamation for the third runway. Construction would last from 2016 to 2023.

The Airport Authority will respond in writing to further queries from the subcommittee, before another meeting on Monday for the advisers to deliberate their decision.

The subcommittee, which has spent 15 hours in three days grilling the authority’s officials on the environmental impact assessment study, met yesterday afternoon to discuss whether to recommend the advisory council to endorse the report.

But by the end of the meeting, it had still not drawn a conclusion on the city’s single most costly infrastructure project. The council has to submit its views by late next month to the environmental protection director, who will then decide whether to issue a work permit for the project.

A subcommittee member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said members at the meeting “freely expressed their opinions” about the report and what outstanding issues had to be further addressed by the authority.

“We haven’t come to the time to indicate our preference,” he said. “This takes time as … environmental impact assessment is a very complex issue.”

Another member said the subcommittee had a number of doubts on the mitigation measures to protect the dolphins during construction and what could be done to draw them back after the work is done. The authority’s replies had been unconvincing, he said.

The authority has so far agreed to set up a 2,400 hectare marine park to compensate for the habitat loss, but will build the park only after the runway is completed in 2023.

It also promised to re-route its Skypier high-speed ferry services and lower the ferries’ speeds during construction, but rejected suggestions to relocate the pier from the east to the west side of the airport.

The authority’s other mitigating measures include adopting a non-dredging reclamation method to reduce underwater noise that would affect the dolphins, and to set up an eco-enhancement fund to support dolphin research.

The subcommittee member said the group was also concerned about the authority’s role as a proponent of the large-scale project that would involve various government departments.

“The authority can’t speak for the government, and this leads to the question: to what extent does it have the power to do what it has pledged to do,” he said.

Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, a dolphin expert who has been opposing the runway project, said he was pessimistic that the subcommittee would reject the controversial project.

“The government’s hands are everywhere and officials will make sure that the project is passed,” he said.