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Tamar Pollution Prediction Far Too Low

South China Morning Post – Sunday November 20 2005

Tamar pollution prediction ‘far too low’

Niki Law

Official environmental report ‘pretends Central has a flat surface’ with no tall buildings, say experts

Official figures seriously underestimate the pollution levels people will face in Central once the new government offices are built at the Tamar site and the surrounding district developed, it has been claimed.

The Sunday Morning Post has learned that air pollution could be three times higher than predicted by the Environmental Protection Department’s 2001 environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, due to miscalculations.

Annelise Connell, vice-chairwoman of Clear the Air, says pollution predictions on the Tamar site and the Central Reclamation Phase III were based on 1999 data plugged into a prediction model that assumes Central has no buildings.

‘The entire air pollution assessment is useless,’ she said. ‘There is not a chance in the world that the real numbers are within objective. The Central Reclamation Project III and Tamar site project would not have been approved if the real figures had been used.’

In the assessment, respiratory suspended particles (RSP) at the Central roadside station were not expected to exceed an average concentration of 80 micrograms per cubic metre and the Air Pollution Index was expected to remain below 100. In reality, the respiratory suspended particles figure has been as high as 257 micrograms and the air pollution index has reached 100 some 97 times.

Meanwhile, air-quality-modelling expert Jimmy Fung Chi-hung says the government’s pollution model ‘pretends Central is a flat surface’ and ignores the fact that pollution gets trapped.

The University of Science and Technology associate professor said a ‘deep canyon’ of pollution was created when buildings by the road were twice as high as the width of the road. ‘Pollution is three times higher than in places where air can flow freely. If you have doubts, just think of how bad the air is in Causeway Bay,’ he said.

‘For a two- to three-lane road, a three-storey commercial building is high enough to create a deep canyon. Cars release exhaust very close to the ground. Central’s canyon would be very deep.’

He suggested the government produce another report using a newer model that considers the buildings. This would take about three months and cost $300,000.

However, the department is standing by its methods and findings. Asked by the Post for comment, a spokeswoman said the study had been conducted in line with environmental impact assessment procedures and the public and the Advisory Council on the Environment had been consulted before the report was approved.

The Constitutional Affairs Bureau felt there was no need to delay the Tamar project, which a spokesman said would have ‘no significant impact on the air pollution in the Central Business District’.

Why Quality Matters

Published in the SCMP on the 15th of December 2004:

URBAN PLANNING Christian Masset

Why quality matters

At last month’s Apec meeting in Chile, President Hu Jintao emphasised that Hong Kong’s government “should give priority to the development of the city to ensure that its citizens enjoy concrete benefits … improving the livelihood of the Hong Kong people”.

This declaration leaves us wondering about the meaning of “development”, since Hong Kong already has Asia’s second-highest gross domestic product per capita, after Japan. Does “development” mean the need to build infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, container terminals and housing? Or is it about meeting a specific need and ensuring its viability in the long term, something which I will call “quality development”?

Hong Kong’s situation can be viewed as a paradox; we are in the position of having world-class infrastructure, yet, during the past two years, we have adopted several poorly justified and widely contested projects which threaten our quality of life and competitiveness. These include the Central-Wan Chai reclamation; the mega hotel in Wan Chai, masking nearby hills; the West Kowloon cultural hub; and the Zhuhai bridge.

All these projects reflect the poor quality planning behind them. They translate into aggravated air and noise pollution, a reduction of the natural footprint of this remarkable area, and high financial costs to the people and the government of Hong Kong. Now is the time for Hong Kong to adopt a new intention – to accept only “quality development”. Clear The Air proposes that this should rest on three basic approaches.

First, abandon the cheap, shortsighted and non-transparent processes. This means opting for the challenging, creative and long-lasting – a worthy prospect for a world city. Applications of this thinking range from energy-efficient architecture to the adoption of rail and other low- or nonpolluting modes of urban transport, and the design of pedestrian-friendly urban areas – while at the same time preserving the existing natural surroundings.

Second, Hong Kong must reflect on issues such as: how to drastically reduce domestic waste by recycling all goods and packaging; and how to develop and implement innovative services and methodologies in education and training.

Third, a focus on “quality development” would make Hong Kong a world-class laboratory of “innovative urbanism”, resulting in cash-rich opportunities for enlightened entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong is never short of ideas; we must let them blossom. Good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy. Archaic thinking, seen in the calls for more infrastructure projects to provide work for engineers, suggests that a viable and fair development policy is badly needed.

The tendency of developers to label environmental groups “antibusiness” reflects the paradox of these times; poorly devised processes and natural destruction of the environment are themselves anti-business, since they result in the depletion of two of our most valuable assets – land and the natural environment. Without these, there is no chance to demonstrate quality of life, which, if it is good, will attract quality people.

If Hong Kong is serious in its claim to be a knowledge-based society, we ought to look to other places – such as California or Japan, for example – with well-protected natural resources. They attract highend businesses, quality research, and are vibrant places that foster development.

To set a new course, let us walk away from a pollution-based mentality which offers an illusion of a prosperous economy. Hong Kong needs economic growth based on “quality development”. Only then will President Hu’s wish materialise and benefit the Pearl River Delta and the people of Hong Kong.

Christian Masset is chairman of Hong Kong-based green group Clear the Air

Driven interests of the Minibus Lobby

Friday, September 6, 2002

We believe that some departments under the leadership of Dr Sarah Liao Sau-tung, the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, have in the past not challenged transport lobbyists’ definitions of ”practicable” (”Extending use of LPG in Hong Kong faces physical constraints,” South China Morning Post, August 23) and have even argued that the profits of privately held companies should take precedence over the respiratory health of Hong Kong’s children. Let us take minibuses as an example.

Two-thirds of all green minibuses are under the control of a handful of Hong Kong billionaires. Three companies alone hold 627 licences (25 per cent).

Each licence costs more than $3 million payable to the current licence holder. The minibus lobby claims this is ”widely dispersed ownership”. If you have a licence, and the minibus passes the yearly emissions test, you can renew your licence indefinitely and do not have to compete in the open market. A sweet deal indeed.

The government wants to ban diesel minibuses and has offered a huge subsidy ($60,000 to $100,000 per green minibus) to encourage licence holders to convert away from diesel vehicles. We applaud those who take advantage of the offer. However, the minibus lobby has successfully blocked the ban. Surprisingly, the lobby also vigorously opposed the subsidy because this ”corporate welfare” package was not big enough. They wanted the offer to last 10 years instead of two, and fought to increase minibus seats from 16 to 24.

At the weekend, the minibus lobby used their paid employees (drivers) as front men in a slow-drive protest to try to demand further concessions from the government for red minibuses.

We do not believe the current licensing system is in the best interest of Hong Kong. Licence holders do not have to compete with more environmentally conscious firms who wish to offer better service and use liquefied-petroleum gas or electric minibuses.

LINCOLN CHAN Clear the Air

KCRC/Clear The Air Clean Transport Poster Contest

Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation and the clean air charity Clear The Air have gotten together to encourage children to help in the battle to clean up Hong Kong’s air.

Generously sponsored by KCRC, Clear The Air contacted every single school in Hong Kong to ask children to design a poster depicting fresh air and clean transport. The response was fantastic, with over 5,000 entries from children aged 5 – 18, exceeding Clear The Air’s poster contest of 1997.

The quality of entries was impressive with many students showing anger and frustration with the current choking air, or hope for an improved environment. Some designs suggested measures for cleaning up Hong Kong, demonstrating the students’ commitment to better air for all. The shortlisted entries clearly show the importance of clean transport to Hong Kong’s environmental future.

Judges Dr CH Leong, Patron of Clear The Air and Member of the Legislative Council, Mr James Blake, Senior Director, Capital Projects and Mr CW Tse, Head of Air Division in the Environmental Protection Department, faced an unenviable task in shortlisting winners. To make their task easier, entries were divided into 5 age categories, with cash prizes available to three winners in each category. Additionally, the school with the most entries will also win a cash award.

An Awards ceremony will be held on June 3 at KCRC in Fo Tan to present cash prizes and free train tickets to the winners and to show them around the environmental features of KCRC’s facilities. Media and Clear The Air members are invited to meet the winning students and to tour the train washing and signaling halls at KCRC.

Some of the winning entries will be displayed at KCRC stations and trains promoting awareness of air pollution and encouraging Hong Kong’s citizens to take action to improve air quality in Hong Kong.