HK's 3rd runway proposal to go the way of Heathrow's?
On Monday 23 April 2012 the Environmental Affairs Panel of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) passed a motion requiring the Hong Kong Airport Authority (HKAA) to conduct a social return on investment (SROI) study, a carbon audit and a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) in addition to the statutory environmental impact assessment (EIA) which they must conduct in order to secure approval to build a proposed third runway at Hong Kong International Airport.
This decision is significant because plans to add a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport were shelved largely because a SROI study showed that the impacts on residents living near the airport outweighed the economic benefits highlighted in the original proposals. HKAA officials, who are all too aware of the outcome in London, have consistently declined to conduct an SROI despite repeated calls to do so.
It is also significant because the Legislative Council had previously expressed support for the third runway during a meeting of the Panel on Economic Development in June 2011. In March 2012 the Executive Council gave its approval in principle, subject to the statutory requirements of the EIA process, for the third runway to go ahead.
So why did a legislature which has been broadly supportive of the third runway – and highly receptive to the proposed HK$136 billion (USD17.4 billion) in contracts and notional HK$900 billion (USD115.4 billion) stimulus to the Hong Kong economy – decide that it needed more information that might derail the project?
The short answer is that they were persuaded to do so by Hong Kong’s environmental NGOs (envNGOs). During the summer of 2011 the HKAA conducted a consultation exercise to seek the public’s views on whether it should restrict its development plans to optimizing the current two runway system, or substantially expand its capacity by adding a third runway. In December 2011 it released the findings of a survey showing that over 70 percent of the 24,000 respondents supported the third runway.
The envNGOs have not rejected the third runway, but they have expressed considerable concern over the loss of habitat for the globally-threatened Chinese White Dolphin and the negative impacts on air quality and noise disturbance to residents living close to the airport and the flight path. They also stressed that the HKAA’s presentation of the 2030 Masterplan had focused on the economic benefits and underplayed the social and environmental concerns.
In February 2012 WWF (HK) and Greenpeace released their own public opinion survey, also prepared by Hong Kong University. The envNGO survey showed that about 73 percent of the public was dissatisfied with amount of information HKAA had provided on the social and environmental impacts of the project. Choosing the same pollsters was an astute move since HKAA cannot challenge the envNGO’s survey without undermining the credibility of their own.