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Advisory Council on the Environment

Confirmed Minutes of the 67th Meeting of
the Advisory Council on the Environment held on 15 October 1999 at 9:30 a.m.

Present:

Mr. Peter H. Y. WONG, GBS, JP (Chairman)
Mr. Clement CHEN
Mr. Barrie COOK
Professor Anthony HEDLEY, JP
Professor Peter HILLS
Professor LAM Kin-che
Mr. Edwin LAU
Mr. Joseph LAU Man-wai, JP
Mr. LIN Chaan-ming
Dr. NG Cho-nam
Ms Iris TAM
Miss Alex YAU
Mr. Plato YIP
Mrs. Philomena LEUNG (Secretary)


Absent with Apologies:

Mr. CHAN Kwok-wai, JP
Miss Ann CHIANG
Mr. Paul C. H. FAN
Dr. HO Kin-chung
The Hon. Dr. LEONG Che-hung
Mr. PAO Ping-wing, JP
Mr. Otto L. T. POON
Mr. Michael J. D. RUSHWORTH
Mr. TAN Teng Huat


In Attendance:

 

Mr. Gordon SIU Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (SPEL)
Mr. Kim SALKELD Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (Environment) (DS(E), PELB)
Mr. Rob LAW Director of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Mr. S P LAU Assistant Director of Agriculture and Fisheries (Conservation) (AD(Cons)/AFD)
Mr. Raymond CHIU Assistant Director of Planning (Technical Services)
Ms. Betty CHAN Senior Information Officer, Environmental Protection Department (EPD)
Mr. Eugene FUNG Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (Environment) 4
Mr. Maurice LOO Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (Environment) 4 (Designate)
Miss Cora SO Executive Officer (Environment), Planning, Environment & Lands Bureau (PELB)
 
In Attendance for Agenda Item 4:
 
Prof. David Dudgeon Professor, Department of Ecology & Biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong (HKU) (Prof/HKU)
Prof. Richard Corlett Associate Professor, Department of Ecology & Biodiversity, HKU (Ass Prof/HKU)
Ms. Jackie Yip Post-graduate, Department of Ecology & Biodiversity, HKU (PG/HKU)
 
In Attendance for Agenda Item 5:
 
Mrs. Agnes Allcock Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport (7) (PAS(7)/TB)
Mr. Robert Footman Commissioner for Transport (C for T)
Mr. Alan Kam Deputy Commissioner for Transport (DC for T)
Mr. Anthony Wong Assistant Secretary for Transport
Mr. Anthony Loo Chief Engineer (Territory Transport), Transport Department (TD)
Mr. K S Chan Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Noise Management and Policy), EPD
Dr. Alain Lam Acting Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Air Policy), EPD (Atg. PEPO(AP)/EPD)
Mr. Stanley Lau Senior Environmental Protection Officer (Territory Assessment), EPD
Mr. Dave Powers Consultant, Wilbur Smith Associate
Mr. Freeman Cheung Consultant, Environmental Resources Management (Cons/ERM)

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The Chairman welcomed Mr. Raymond Chiu to the meeting. Mr. Chiu was attending the meeting on behalf of Mr. Bosco Fung. Action
Agenda Item 1 : Confirmation of Minutes of 66th Meeting held on 27 September 1999  
2. The minutes of the 66th meeting held on 27 September 1999 were confirmed.  
Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising  
Para. 3 : Visit to the Environmental Protection Bureau of Guangdong  
3. Members noted that the visit would be postponed to December 1999. The Secretariat would inform Members of the exact dates once available. Secretariat
Para. 4 : Shotcreted Slopes  
4. The Chairman said that the briefing note regarding Highways Department's (Hy D) efforts in landscaping slopes along highways gave an account of what should be done rather than what the actual situation was. Nor was it specific enough. He requested the Secretariat to find out from Members the most objectionable shotcreted slopes in Hong Kong and invite Hy D to a site visit so the latter could explain to Members on the spot why landscaping works were not possible along those slopes. Secretariat
Para. 6 : Target dates for HK's major rivers and marine waters to meet their Water Quality Objectives  
5. Members noted that EPD was preparing the reply. EPD
Para. 10 : Proposals for alternative noise mitigation measures  
6. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the EIA Subcommittee had requested the Administration to prepare a paper to set out its policy regarding noise mitigation for discussion at the coming EIA Subcommittee meeting. He said that the Subcommittee would identify the limitations of the existing noise mitigation measures and propose possible means to overcome the limitations or alternative mitigation measures for the Council's deliberation at the November meeting. EIA Subcommittee
Agenda Item 3 : 1999 Policy Address : Initiatives on Environmental Protection  
7. DS(E)/PELB briefed Members on the initiatives to improve the environment as set out in the Policy Address delivered by the Chief Executive on 6 October 1999.  
8. Noting that $30 billion would be spent on environmental improvement works in the next few years, the Chairman asked whether it was possible for the Administration to provide Members with a breakdown of the expenditure. DEP said that the $30 billion represented the aggregate amount the Administration was going to spend on existing or committed environmental improvement programmes rather than new money for departments to embark on new initiatives. DS(E)/PELB said that the $30 billion reflected only part of the Administration's efforts to improve the environment, as the amount had only taken into account environmental projects in the conventional sense but not projects that would contribute to environmental improvement or sustainable development in the long term, such as railway projects. As far as the $30 billion was concerned, about $18 billion would be spent on sewerage projects, including Stage I of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS), the detailed design and supervision of SSDS Stages II and III/IV and the various sewerage projects under the Sewerage Master Plans. The remaining $12 billion would be spent on the waste reduction programme. Members noted that not the entire $30 billion would be spent between 1999 and 2004.  
9. The Chairman said that the public would expect substantial improvement to the environment after $30 billion public money were spent on various sewerage and waste reduction programmes. He asked whether it was possible for the Administration to quantify the environmental improvement that could be made. DS(E)/PELB said that he would consider providing breakdown of the expenditure on environmental improvement programmes in the context of next year's Policy Address. The booklet would set out the role of economic instruments in bringing about environmental improvement.  
10. A Member said it was encouraging that the Chief Executive had taken environmental protection as one of the main themes of this year's Policy Address. However, the adverse comments made by some political parties and Legislative Councillors that the Policy Address had played up environmental protection at the expense of economic recovery reflected their inadequate understanding of the meaning of sustainable development. He said that further efforts would be needed to educate the public on sustainable development.  
11. A Member said it was crucial that the community, particularly those who are part of the legislature, understood the importance of environmental protection in achieving sustainable development and supported the "polluter pays principle" as a disincentive to the generation of pollution. Without their support, Government's initiatives to recover the costs for cleaning up the environment, such as the landfill charges, would only stand a remote chance of being endorsed by the legislature. He commended this year's Policy Address as the "greenest" Policy Address but remarked that the symbolic effect would be stronger if the Policy Address document was printed on recycled paper rather than paper that made use of woods from recycled forest, which could mean differently in different places. The Chairman opined that the use of CD-ROMs in lieu of hard copies should be contemplated in future.  
12. A Member recalled that in January 1997 this Council was presented with the findings of the survey on Public Support for Environmental Protection in Hong Kong which was conducted by the Department of Geography and Geology of the University of Hong Kong. According to the survey, Hong Kong had relatively low score when compared to 39 other places in the world in terms of the degree of public support as well as willingness to pay higher taxes for environmental protection. He said that something needed to be done to change that mentality. The Chairman said that people tended to be reluctant to pay for services that they used to be receiving free of charge. They had to learn to think differently.  
13. A Member commented that the Administration should step up efforts in four aspects, namely closer co-operation with the Mainland to tackle the water pollution problem, securing the community's acceptance of the "polluter pays principle", managing traffic demand and carrying out environmental education. On managing traffic demand, another Member said it was disappointing that the Transport Bureau was still using the total length of roads and railways built as an indicator of its performance in this year's Policy Objectives Booklet. The Chairman said it was crucial that those who had a role to play in making transport policies were aware of the need for sustainable transport policies in Hong Kong. In this regard, he said that there were merits if the Transport Advisory Council (TAC) had environmentalists sitting on it.  
14. A Member said that industries had been making conscious efforts to comply with various environmental legislation. He urged the Administration to take into account the difficulties of the trade when considering further measures to tighten environmental control to ensure that the survival of the trade would not be jeopardized by these measures. DEP disagreed that environmental control measures were driving industries to close down or relocate.  
15. A Member welcomed the proposals on setting up the Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection under the Hong Kong/Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference and closer liaison with the Mainland on the environmental impact assessment of urban planning. But she urged the Joint Working Group to be more transparent and the public should be better informed. Noting that railway would be the preferred mode of transport in future, That Member said that the support of the Town Planning Board on such policy should be obtained to ensure that they will approve optimum development intensity for developments above and around railway stations and not to reduce intensity simply based on urban design consideration.  
16. A Member welcomed the proposal on setting up the Council on Sustainable Development, which would strengthen the institutional arrangements for effective discussion, co-ordination and consensus building on environmental issues.  
17. A Member said that apart from spending money on environmental infrastructure, the Administration should also invest on environmental education. DS(E)/PELB said that funding was being allocated to Education Department (ED) for carrying out environmental education. EPD had regular meetings with ED to discuss how to carry out environmental education in schools.  
18. A Member said that apart from tackling outdoor air quality problem, the Administration should also tackle Hong Kong's indoor air quality problem. He said that the Hong Kong Productivity Council had conducted a survey on Hong Kong's indoor air quality recently, covering 70 locations inside different types of buildings. The results showed that over 30% of these locations had indoor air quality problem. Also, he supported the Chief Executive's proposal on developing environmental industry in Hong Kong and urged the Administration to come up with concrete action plans to implement that proposal.  
19. A Member said that in order to build up understanding and support, the Administration should explain to the public at the outset what its various environmental programmes aimed to achieve and their limitations, so that the public did not have false hope regarding the results.  
20. The Chairman thanked DS(E)/PELB for briefing Members on the way forward and wished the Administration every success in implementing the environmental improvement programmes.  
Agenda Item 4 : Biodiversity Survey of Hong Kong
(ACE Paper 41/99)
 
21. The Chairman welcomed Prof/HKU, Ass Prof/HKU and PG/HKU to the meeting. Prof/HKU and PG/HKU briefed Members on the findings of the Survey.  
22. A Member was concerned that many ecological hotspots identified in the Survey lied outside country parks and therefore did not receive proper protection and conservation. Ass Prof/HKU said that most of the hotspots which at present were not part of the country parks were indeed not very far away from the latter. By extending the boundaries of the existing country parks slightly, most of these hotspots would become part of the country parks. AD(Cons)/AFD explained that most of the country parks were designated in the 1970s when conservation awareness of the community was not very high. Also, villagers were generally reluctant to have their village areas designated as country parks lest this would affect the development potential. As a compromise, village areas, including fung shui woods, were deliberately excluded from the country parks. He said that there was a need to strike a balance between conservation need and villagers' interest. In most circumstances, the villagers concerned were keen to protect their fung shui woods and would resist developments that caused damage to the woods. However, they did not welcome Government's intervention. High-handed approach to protect ecologically sensitive areas under private ownership would only invite confrontation from the villagers or owners concerned.  
23. A Member hoped that the Administration could make the best use of the biodiversity database to formulate planning and development guidelines that reflected genuine conservation needs. She said that at present the Administration had indiscriminately frozen the development of a lot of land of high development potential due to the lack of site-specific information regarding the biodiversity of the sites concerned and scientific assessment of their ecological importance. Even if developments were approved, they were usually conditional upon the fulfillment of certain vague requirements, such as the provision of a buffer area if the development was located next to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, how big the buffer area should be was never specified. With site specific information available from the database, the Administration could determine the ecological importance of individual sites on the basis of the number and types of species they supported and specify the conditions for developers to comply with. Another Member said that apart from showing the geographical distribution of the species and their habitats, the GIS should also make reference to existing and potential developments in their vicinity. He said that the EIA Subcommittee would find this information useful for assessing the ecological impact of development projects and the adequacy of the mitigation measures proposed. Prof/HKU said that the Survey aimed to provide the Administration with a comprehensive database of the species found in Hong Kong and their geographical distribution. However, individual projects still had to carry out environmental impact assessments in order to find out the actual ecological impact and the mitigation measures required.  
24. A Member said that some hotspots which the Survey had identified, such as Lung Kwu Tan, were far away from existing country parks or areas planned to be designated as country parks in future. Therefore, even if AFD followed the recommendations of the Survey and extended the boundaries of its country parks to cover as many hotspots as possible, those remote ones would still be left out. He asked whether the Administration would consider other possible means to protect those remote hotspots. AD(Cons)/AFD said that it was a tricky issue regarding what constituted the most appropriate approach to protect ecologically sensitive areas, particularly private land. A high profile approach might be the least desirable approach since it aroused curious visitors to visit the ecologically sensitive areas thereby increasing the chance of human disturbance to the species there. Premature disclosure of areas of ecological importance before the relevant statutory town plan was in place would also put the areas under threat, if the landowners decided to bulldoze the land before the statutory town plan was in place. Therefore, AFD had to handle the Survey data with great care and would restrict public access to the data before a comprehensive protection and conservation plan was in place. The Chairman asked and AD(Cons)/AFD said that AFD would start drawing up the protection and conservation plan once it had received the exact site boundaries of the ecological hotspots from Prof/HKU and his team. In this regard, Prof/HKU informed Members that he and his team had already started handing over the relevant information to AFD and would continue to do so in the coming months.  
25. The Chairman expressed reservation on whether designating areas of ecological importance as country parks was the most appropriate means to conserve those areas, since country parks were meant for both recreation and conservation. AD(Cons)/AFD said that there was active management and planning inside country parks so that recreational activities that took place inside country parks would contribute to fulfilling the conservation purposes.  
26. A Member said that the United States had a similar database and it was a statutory requirement for all developments to make reference to the database in the planning process. Users of the database had to pay in order to gain access and in this way the database was self-sustaining. He asked whether resources would be available to update the biodiversity database. Prof/HKU said that his team would update the database on a regular basis provided that funding was available. DS(E)/PELB said that PELB was liaising with AFD to sort out the detailed implementation of the database and the formulation of the protection and conservation plan. The issue about who should have access to the database, particularly before a comprehensive protection and conservation plan was drawn up, deserved careful consideration. He said it was crucial that the public was aware of the need to conserve areas of ecological importance and supported Government's protection and conservation plan. He said that the success of the artificial reef programme demonstrated the importance of soliciting the support of the affected parties.  
27. In response to a Member's query, AD(Cons)/AFD said that AFD had deployed different means to protect areas of ecological importance including the listing of areas as SSSI. Members noted that areas on the Lantau Island that were known to be the habitat of the Romer's Tree Frog as well as the Tai Ho Stream were already listed as SSSI.  
28. A Member asked how the EIA process could benefit from the biodiversity database. Ass Prof/HKU said that the database would provide a useful source of reference to the project proponent in carrying out environmental monitoring and audit under the EIA process.  
29. In view of the usefulness of the database to the work of the EIA Subcommittee, two Members requested that EIA Subcommittee Members be granted access to the database as soon as possible rather than having to wait until the protection and conservation plan was in place. AD(Cons)/AFD said that AFD would consider Members' request, taking into account the need to protect the information in the database which was highly sensitive at this stage.  
30. In response to the Chairman's query, Prof/HKU said that the Survey covered species on land only. AD(Cons)/AFD informed Members that two recent studies conducted locally had examined the issue of marine biodiversity, namely a Jockey Club-funded study on corals and an ECF-funded study on the species of fish found in Hong Kong waters.  
31. The Chairman commended the Survey as an important building block for Hong Kong to develop a systematic and comprehensive inventory on biodiversity. He urged the Administration to make the best use of the database in conservation and development planning.  
[Note : Before the meeting, AFD sent to the Secretariat written responses to specific points in ACE Paper 41/99. A copy of AFD's written responses is enclosed for Members' reference.]  
Agenda Item 5 : Briefing on the Third Comprehensive Transport Study (CTS-3) and New Transport Strategy
(ACE Paper 42/99)
 
32. The Chairman welcomed PAS(7)/TB and C for T et.al. to the meeting. A short video introducing the New Transport Strategy and CTS-3 was played and Cons/ERM delivered a supplementary presentation on the Strategic Environmental Assessment findings and recommendations.  
33. A Member said that a sustainable transport policy was crucial to the long term development of Hong Kong since vehicular emissions accounted for a significant portion of the concentration of particulates and sulphur dioxide in the air. He said he was not as optimistic as the consultants of inCTS-3, who predicted that air quality in Hong Kong would likely improve in future if the traffic growth rate followed the low or medium growth scenarios. He doubted the wisdom of using 1997 as the base year for comparison in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) because the air pollution problem in Hong Kong was already acute in 1997. He said that the 1996 TDSR Study had already highlighted the deteriorating air quality problem in Hong Kong and it was disappointing that the problem had not improved in the past few years. To resolve the air pollution problem, he said that the Administration could not rely on mitigation measures alone but should look at the issue of traffic management.  
34. C for T said that TD shared the community's aspiration for a cleaner environment in Hong Kong and had put great emphasis on environmental consideration in drafting the future transport strategy, as manifested by the SEA study in CTS-3. TB and TD would continue to liaise closely with PELB and EPD to identify problems and work out solutions. Atg. PEPO(AP)/EPD supplemented that the SEA had highlighted the potential pollution problems that Hong Kong would face under the three different traffic growth scenarios. On the basis of the predictions of the SEA, the Administration had come up with a comprehensive programme to further reduce vehicular emissions, including the phasing out of diesel taxis and light buses, and reducing emissions from older diesel vehicles. While these measures would bring short-term improvements to the air quality, the long term solution relied on more drastic measures such as vehicle restraint.  
35. A Member said that the growth in the number of vehicles in the past few years had been alarming in Hong Kong. He said that Hong Kong was such a small place that it could do away with private cars if a well integrated public transport system was in place. Noting that the Chief Executive had aspired Hong Kong to become a high-tech and first class city, that Member said that CTS-3 should help to make that wish come true by adopting a sustainable transport strategy. He pointed out that the Administration should not be complacent with a transport policy that was merely environmentally acceptable.  
36. PAS(7)/TB said that railway would become the backbone of our transport system in future. The completion of five new railways between 2002 and 2004 would put about 70% of the total population under the railway catchment areas. She said that TB had already started planning the next stage of railway development, which aimed at serving 80% of the total population by 2016. Since the construction of railways took time, she urged Members to be patient with the Administration. As regards managing traffic growth, PAS(7)/TB said that according to CTS-3 assessment, there was no need to introduce vehicle restraint on transport ground. That said, she added that if there was a need to introduce vehicle restraint on environmental ground, TB would keep an open mind and that the community should be given the opportunity for a full debate.. On the technical side, TD was studying the feasibility of introducing Electronic Road Pricing System on a territory-wide basis, which would be one possible instruments for managing traffic growth.  
37. A Member commented that CTS-3 had identified the environmental problems that Hong Kong would likely face if the number of vehicles continued to grow, but had not offered much advice regarding the solutions. PAS(7)/TB said that CTS-3 was not a transport policy document. On the basis of the findings of CTS-3, the Administration had formulated the revised transport strategy and come up with various proposed measures to reduce vehicular emissions. Most of these new initiatives were spelt out in the Chief Executive's Policy Address this year. DS(E)/PELB said that in the long run, it would be necessary for the community to change its attitude, lifestyle and behaviour in order to bring long term improvements to the environment in Hong Kong. The "clean air" booklet produced earlier on was the first step to raise public awareness of how serious air pollution problem was in Hong Kong and what an individual could do to help reduce pollution.  
38. In response to a Member's comments, C for T said that the Administration would not be complacent with the existing and planned measures to reduce vehicular emissions and would continue to identify other viable measures to further reduce the environmental impact of transport and traffic.  
39. Noting that 450 ha of land would be lost as a result of the various strategic highway projects being planned, a Member asked whether initial environmental impact assessment had been carried out to assess the environmental impact of the railway projects. Also, he asked whether the 450 ha of land had taken into account the land required by the Route 16 project. Cons/ERM said that the 450 ha of land had only taken into account the land requirements of 11 projects recommended under CTS-3. The land requirement of those committed projects of which an EIA had been conducted, including Route 16 (now renamed as Route 9), had not yet been accounted for.  
40. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman considered that the SEA Technical Report deserved further scrutiny at the EIA Subcommittee. He said that he would arrange to have the Report discussed at the EIA Subcommittee meeting to be held on 1 November 1999. The Chairman thanked the Subcommittee Chairman for his offer. In view of the keen interest that Members had shown regarding the CTS-3 report, the Chairman requested PAS(7)/TB and C for T to brief this Council on the outcome of the public consultation in due course. TB/TD
41. As a separate issue, the Chairman asked and Cons/ERM said that the assistant director of the Centre for Urban Environment and Management of the University of Hong Kong was a member of TAC and could provide advice to TAC from an environmental perspective. The Chairman said that it would be desirable if TAC had a member from one of the local green groups. PAS(7)/TB thanked the Chairman for his proposal and said that TB would take this into account when considering future appointments to TAC.  
Agenda Item 6 : Any Other Business  
Tentative Schedule of Work for ACE in 1999  
42. Members noted the tentative schedule of work.  
EIA Report on Route 16  
43. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the EIA Subcommittee considered the EIA Report on Route 16 on 4 October 1999. He said that EIA Subcommittee Members had no objection to the project from the environmental point of view, but had reservations on the need for a dual 3-lane road. Hy D had just provided them additional justifications, which Members had yet to study. If Members were satisfied with the justifications after reading the additional information from Hy D, he would seek this Council's endorsement of the EIA Report by circulation. If not, he might request the Chairman to convene a special meeting before mid-November to resolve the differences, since the Council was bound by the 60-day statutory period to provide its recommendations. The Chairman agreed. EIA Subcommittee

Secretariat
[Post-meeting note : The EIA Report on Route 16 was endorsed without conditions by circulation on 2 November 1999.]  
Agenda Item 7 : Date of Next Meeting  
44. The next meeting was scheduled for 29 November 1999.  
   
Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau
November 1999


 

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