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April 17th, 2008:

Find Balance

Updated on Apr 17, 2008 – SCMP

Encouraged by the growth in population and economic development, our urban areas have continually expanded and encroached into rural areas like Lantau.

This development has resulted in environmental problems such as noise and air pollution. We must resolve the conflicts between environmental conservation and this urban development and strike a balance. I feel that improving the road system on Lantau will open the island up to private car users and it is not a good idea.

We need to ensure sustainable development in Hong Kong.

Iris Lau, Sha Tin

Smoke-Free Zones For Buses Aired

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Apr 17, 2008 – SCMP

The government has pledged to study the feasibility of setting up low-emission zones from which heavily polluting buses would be banned.

The study will consider their pros and cons, including the extent to which they would improve roadside air quality and their impact on passengers and road traffic.

The pledges were made by Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah in the Legislative Council in a written response to a question from Hong Kong Island lawmaker Martin Lee Chu-ming.

Low emission zones (LEZ) are increasingly popular in Europe. Heavily polluting vehicles are banned from them or charged for entering them.

London has recently decreed an LEZ in the city centre and is progressively introducing daily charges of £100 (HK$1,540) to £200 for vehicles which flout its emission caps. The charge applies initially to heavy trucks; in July it will be extended to trucks over 3.5 tonnes and to buses and, in 2010, to vans and minibuses.

Mr Yau said a third of the vehicles run by Hong Kong’s three big bus franchises were pre-Euro or Euro I. The total of 1,960 had dropped by only 80 since September 2006.

Pre-Euro vehicles were built before 1992, when the European Union introduced its first emission standards for heavy vehicles, known as Euro I.

The tougher Euro II standard was introduced in 1996.

At the end of last year, Kowloon Motor Bus, CityBus and sister company New World First Bus were operating 609 pre-Euro buses and 1,351 Euro I buses.

Of these, 311 were plying some of city’s busiest roads, including Hennessy Road, Queensway – the worst affected – and Des Voeux Road Central on the island and Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Most of them were in the CityBus fleet.

But Mr Yau told lawmakers that forcing them off these roads would shift the air pollution problem elsewhere.

“The government needs to study carefully whether deploying all pre-Euro or Euro I buses outside low emission zones will shift the roadside air pollution problem to areas which are currently unaffected, or worsen their current situation,” he said.

Pre-Euro and Euro I buses accounted for about half the 100 tonnes of respirable suspended particles and nitrogen oxides emitted by franchised buses in 2006.

A Euro IV diesel vehicle emits 95 per cent less particulates and 60 per cent less nitrogen oxides than a pre-Euro vehicle, the Environmental Protection Department says.

Australian Walker Tallent Scoops First Bird’s Nest Win

Reuters in Beijing

Australian Jared Tallent won the first athletics event at China’s new “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium on Friday when he claimed victory in the IAAF 20km race walk.

The 23-year-old Commonwealth bronze medallist received a huge roar from the 3,000 spectators rattling around in the 91,000-seater showpiece venue for this year’s Beijing Olympics when he crossed the line after one hour, 20 minutes and 11 seconds.

“Fantastic,” Tallent said. “It’s very special to be the first winner in the Bird’s Nest, I couldn’t be happier. This is my first big international win and I’m hoping to do it again in August.”

Local hopes had rested on Wang Hao finding something extra over the last few kilometres but the Inner Mongolian teenager had to settle for second place despite a personal best time of 1:20.25.

“Everybody was thinking about winning the first gold medal for China at the Bird’s Nest but I’m happy with my performance,” said the 18-year-old. “I’ll go away and work hard and come back and win a medal, maybe even a gold, in August.”

Mexican Eder Sanchez, who finished fourth in the 20km at last year’s world championships, was third in 1:20.57, his best time of the season.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has admitted that there is a slight health risk for athletes competing for more than an hour on the most polluted days in the Chinese capital.

On Friday, the smog was not as bad as it had been earlier in the week and Tallent said it had not had any impact on his race.

“The pollution didn’t affect me at all, it looks pretty hazy, but it was not problem at all, I felt great,” he told reporters.

Sanchez said the air quality was similar to that in his native Mexico and his eyes had been watering after 15km.

“It hurt my performance a little,” he said.

This was the first opportunity for the Chinese public to get inside the $500-million stadium and locals began arriving hours before the 9am race start.

A great deal of Chinese prestige rests on the Aug. 8-24 Games being a success and this has not been lost on the people of Beijing.

“I’m so anxious that there are still some things to be finished, it’s a little bit messy inside and outside,” said Han Huiying, a local community worker who arrived at 7am.

“There’s only about a hundred days to go and I want them to fix this because I think the Olympics has to be perfect.”