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November 17th, 2008:

Why Allow Polluting Buses?

SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

The government is going ahead with the enhancement of the waterfront at Victoria Harbour.
It is also seeking to relieve traffic congestion with the construction of the Central-Wan Chai bypass. But why is it doing nothing to combat the worsening pollution in Central?

Every day, passengers along Pedder Street, Des Veoux Road Central and Queen’s Road Central are exposed to exhaust emissions from vehicles, in particular buses.

The situation is particularly serious near Pottinger Street, next to the “eyesore” of the former Central market, which has been in a dilapidated state for years.

Taxi drivers have told me that in the early evening they see many buses along busy Hennessy Road which are only half-full.

Why do we have overlapping bus routes?

This just exacerbates the pollution problems.

Also, a lot of these buses emit heavy black smoke.

It is clearly visible to the naked eye.

Why is it that the government allows bus companies to deploy environmentally-unfriendly vehicles in such a densely populated city as Hong Kong?

Surely in other cities around the world this would not be tolerated.

The Environment Bureau and the bus companies owe the public an answer as why these vehicles are still a major cause of pollution.

Mary Chan, Central

Development Rethink To Let Fresh Air Into City

SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Improving quality of life is one of the keys to Hong Kong’s continued success. The government well knows that changing property developers’ ways is central to achieving this aim. The so-called wall effect and canyons created by cheek-by-jowl buildings are synonymous with our city, but also make our environment uncomfortable. It is therefore good that authorities are considering significant changes to the present system.

Land being a premium has naturally meant that developers have done their utmost to maximise its potential. Scarcity means high values which translate into economic considerations being foremost when sites are planned. As a result, buildings with little or no space between them line the waterfront and hillsides. The views are spectacular, but for those at street level, the lack of air circulation and sunlight can be stifling, especially in the humid months of summer and when pollution is high.

As we report today, a public consultation could start as early as next month to look at a vastly different development approach. Among proposals are that only 70 per cent of the length of a site can be used, ensuring better air flow between buildings, and that 30 per cent of the total area be set aside for greenery. Such a model seems on its face to be a much-needed breath of fresh air for our city, but it needs to be carefully considered. A balance has to be found to ensure that developers are not overly jeopardised; height restrictions of buildings may have to be relaxed to compensate for area densities being lessened.

There is significant reason for a rethink. Developers who presently voluntarily add green features like podium gardens to buildings are given incentives such as extra floor area. This has not always been conducive to improving the environment. There are cases of the system having been abused, to the detriment of the community.

The government is to be commended for taking environmental concerns firmly on board and pushing ahead with finding a better system. If Hong Kong is to flourish and thrive, we have to improve living standards. But developers have to be listened to and rules made flexible. With care and forethought, the mistakes of the past can be avoided.

Public Urged To Check For Respiratory Illness

Anita Lam – SCMP | Updated on Nov 17, 2008

Those with a persistent cough and elderly people should be checked for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as hospital admission rates always jump during periods of cold and wet weather, a doctor has warned.

Respiratory medicine expert Roland Leung said many Hongkongers were still unaware of the disease, which the World Health Organisation expected to become the world’s third-biggest killer in the next two decades.

According to Hospital Authority figures, an average of four people died of the disease every day in 2006. Dr Leung said that despite a drop in the number of deaths since then – because of a reduction in the number of smokers – Hong Kong had the second-highest death rate for the disease in East Asia last year, lagging just behind Japan.

“If your coughing lasts for more than three months and you are always short of breath, then you should go for a check-up,” Dr Leung said.

A 2005 study found 100,000 Hongkongers suffering from the disease – some even in the terminal stage – had never sought treatment, as many tended to put it down to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Directly linked to air pollution, Dr Leung said that apart from pneumonia, the disease was the most common cause of hospital admissions in Hong Kong. At worst patients may find themselves unable to carry out even the simplest household tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Dr Leung said patients should try a new steroid-free medicine called Tiotropium to manage the illness.

A four-year study on the medicine, which helps sufferers breathe more easily, was found to be about 15 per cent more efficient than a traditional inhaler in improving patients’ lives, although its effects declined for long-term users.

Tiotropium has been available in public hospitals for about a year and is also available in local pharmacies with a referral letter from a doctor.