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May 11th, 2012:

Granting of legal aid adds fuel to the fire in battle over incinerator


Howard Winn
May 11, 2012

Those working to block government plans to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau are cock-a-hoop at the Legal Aid Department’s decision to grant aid to two Cheung Chau residents and one from Lantau who want to apply for a judicial review of decisions taken by the Environmental Protection Department, the Town Planning Board and Exco with respect to the incinerator.

The granting of legal aid means there is a sufficient basis for proceeding and has created a degree of confidence among those objecting to the incinerator that leave to apply for a judicial review will be granted over government objections at a court hearing that starts on June 7. If leave to apply for review is granted, this will put the government in the position of paying to sue itself, as occurred with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Work on the incinerator is at present suspended after Legco’s environmental panel declined to approve the EPD’s plans. However objectors believe that as long as the outline zoning plan to build a 3,000- tonne-per day mass-burn incinerator on an artificial island close to the shore remains in existence, then they should continue with the judicial review.

At the same time, the arguments over the type of technology that should be employed continue. Conventional mass-burn incinerators, the objectors say, produce dangerously toxic emissions, and some of them have been closed down around the world for this reason. They argue instead for gas plasma incinerators that produce little in the way of emissions, according to the manufacturers. They can variously produce jet fuel or syngas, which can generate electricity. Various city and regional authorities have in the past few years started to build gas plasma waste-to-energy operations, though nothing on the scale of 3,000 tonnes a day.

Several firms have produced proposals and asked to speak to the EPD. One firm has even offered to install and operate a gas plasma waste-to-energy operation at no charge to the government, as it believes it will make money from the project. However, the EPD has refused to see these firms. Its consultants, Aecom, apparently believe that it is not suitable for Hong Kong, though its US counterpart evidently has a different view.

“We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly but ready for large-scale commercialisation,” Aecom’s Mike Zebel said in the US.

Uncomfortable questions about that runway plan


Howard Winn
May 12, 2012

Uncomfortable questions about that runway plan

A group calling itself the Airport Development Concern Network has written to incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying expressing its disappointment at the reluctance of the Airport Authority to carry out a social return on investment (SROI) study on the proposed third runway, as requested by the Legislative Council environmental panel. The group also called on Leung not to renew the contract of authority chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung when it ends next February. The group says in its letter that during the chief executive candidates’ environmental policy forum before the recent election, Leung was in favour of such a study. The group also suggested that the authority’s chief executive should have some experience in “planning large-scale infrastructure and sustainable development”. There has been some attempt by advocates of the third runway to speed up the approval process by Legco. The proposed runway will be one of Hong Kong’s largest infrastructure projects, at an estimated cost of HK$136 billion, and the authority claims it will bring some HK$900 billion in economic benefit in the 50 years after it is built.

Interestingly, Eva Cheng, the secretary for transport and housing, has said the environmental impact study would be based on new air quality standards that came into force in Hong Kong in 2014. The authority’s own consultants, Ove Arup, have already admitted that the third runway would struggle to meet these new standards, which are a legal requirement. The consultants’ report says “emissions from aircraft can only meet the standard by reducing the capacity of the new runway by some 60 per cent”. The prospect of carrying out an SROI study must be even more daunting.

The present administration’s approach would be to try to fudge this issue, so it will be interesting to see how the new government handles it.

New rail lines to help ease crowding


Jennifer Ngo
May 11, 2012

New railways on the drawing board are likely to focus on relieving congestion at some interchange stations, such as Admiralty and North Point, transport officials say.

At least three projects have been lined up from 2020. The plans would be launched for public consultation in December, the Transport and Housing Bureau said yesterday.

“The consultation will focus on dealing with bottlenecks at some Hong Kong Island stations,” undersecretary Yau Shing-mu said.

The proposals mark the bureau’s second round of plans for rail development to meet the city’s long-term transport needs. Last month, a public consultation was started on three New Territories projects, including a link between Hong Kong and Shenzhen airports.

The bureau did not delve into the details of the latest plans, but it was previously reported that possible routes included direct services from Siu Sai Wan to either Chai Wan or Heng Fa Chuen and from East Kowloon to Central and Admiralty, and a spur line running parallel to the Island Line.

The first consultation dealt with inter-regional railway corridors, while the second would tackle more localised congestions, Yau said.

The two consultations would help the government in long-term planning on railway transport, such as setting apart land for development, he said.

Statistics from the Census and Statistics Department had enabled the bureau to plan for transport needs up to 2030.

Transport planning needed to go hand-in-hand with land planning and development, said Fletch Chan Wai-wai, a principal assistant secretary at the bureau.

Chan said it was gathering views from the public on “how they want their neighbourhood to be like”.

“We are looking at population changes and shifts,” Yau said.

The bigger picture on green issues


C.Y.’s advisers on environmental matters say political will and a broader, better integrated approach to policymaking are needed to tackle problems
Cheung Chi-fai
May 11, 2012

The next government needs to show strong political will to protect the environment and have broader planning and better policy integration, say advisers to chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying.

Town planner Dr Ng Cho-nam (pictured), said environmental matters had no borders and co-operation among different departments in handling them was essential.

“Air pollution is a long-existing frustration and I think it is more than an environment problem. It is also a planning problem,” said Ng. who advised Leung on his environment policy platform. “No matter how much the environment officials have done, there is always a limit on how much we can curb exhaust emissions. At the end of the day, we still need to address the air ventilation in the city simultaneously.”

Air pollution is the biggest environmental problem facing the new government, but it will also inherit a range of unresolved problems such as waste incineration and slow progress in nature conservation.

Ng made the comments after Wong Kam-shing, a veteran architect and advocate of better air circulation in the city, was tipped to head the Environment Bureau.

A real test for the new chief executive, Ng said, would be bridging gaps and resolving conflicts of interest among different departments on policies such as transport and development. While there was no shortage of means – in terms of technology and policies – to resolve most environmental problems, political determination was also needed to push through policies or measures, particularly in the legislature.

“The real problem is politics and how determined the chief executive is in pushing policies through,” he said. He believes Leung will not shrink from confronting such problems.

Ng said nature preservation was one area where determination was needed and it was time to consider adopting the approach now used to conserve heritage buildings.

He cited the success in saving King Yin Lei mansion in Stubbs Road, Mid-Levels, which was rescued from imminent demolition through a land swap between the government and the owner.

“The built heritage policy has gone farther and deeper,” he said. “So why not nature conservation?”

Ng, a member of the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation, of which Leung was a founder, said a proposal to build a columbarium and nature reserve at ecologically sensitive Sha Lo Tung should be scrapped and an off-site land swap offered instead. He said the Sha Lo Tung land could be swapped for a site at a closed landfill elsewhere in Tai Po district.

It was a more direct and efficient way of conserving the remote abandoned village and its surroundings, he said, but land swaps should be adopted only for sites with very high ecological value.

Another Leung adviser, Lam Chiu-ying, former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said he expected the new government would restore a balance between development and conservation.

“We used to talk about economic or social development. But Leung’s platform also talks about environmental development,” he said.

“Instead of minimising damage to the environment, what is proposed is to expand the capacity of the environment like expanding the country parks and marine parks, or special 8reserves for protected species.”

Lam also said a review of nature conservation policy was needed.

“Hong Kong has been part of the convention on biodiversity since last year and we need a comprehensive nature conservation policy, including cataloguing endangered species and setting up reserves for them.”

Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power – a partner with the landowner of Sha Lo Tung in an existing development plan – said they would press ahead with the project, launched eight years ago.

“I hope Leung will clarify his policy as clearly and quickly as he can,” Man said.

Incinerator opponents granted legal aid


Cheung Chi-fai
May 11, 2012

Three people have won legal aid to mount court challenges to government plans for a massive waste incinerator beside an outlying island – even though the project is on hold.

Kwok Cheuk-kin and Leung Hon-wai, both Cheung Chau residents, and Ho Loy, who lives on Lantau, have filed three separate judicial reviews against the Environmental Protection Department project.

It is understood their cases will be heard initially at the High Court on June 7, during which environment officials will present evidence to argue that they should be halted. If the court grants leave to any of the cases, further hearings will be conducted.

The government had sought funding for the HK$23 billion, 3,000-tonne capacity incinerator off Shek Kwu Chau, near Cheung Chau, but said last month the request would not proceed in the life of the present government.

Five government decisions will be scrutinised in the three cases. They include the decisions of the Town Planning Board to adopt and the Executive Council to approve an outline zoning plan for Shek Kwu Chau and an artificial island next to it on which the burner would be built.

They will also question the Executive Council’s approval to authorise dredging and reclamation work off the southwest coast of Shek Kwu Chau, and the environment department’s decisions to approve the environmental impact assessment report and issue an environmental permit for the incinerator.

Ho said these decisions were all problematic and should be overturned.

“There are also questions of the independence of the consultant which carried out the study and why the government favoured Shek Kwu Chau though an alternative site in Tsang Tsui, Tuen Mun, was more suitable,” Ho said.

It is not certain whether the three will hire the same lawyer.

Kwok said he had contacted lawyer Albert Ho Chun-yan, but he sensed that the Democratic Party chairman and legislator was hesitant about taking the case, although he had not ruled it out.