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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.

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