(ACE Paper 38/2001)
Under the present public works procedures, some projects are required to be gazetted under the relevant ordinances so as to allow the public who may be affected to make their written objections and enable those objections to be addressed by the project before they are authorized for construction. Examples are roadwork projects and reclamation-related projects requiring authorization under the Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance and the Foreshore and Seabed (Reclamations) Ordinance respectively, and land use development projects which require authorization under the Town Planning Ordinance. In most cases, the gazetting will take 2 months and the resolution of objections, if any are raised, will take up to an additional 9 months, or longer for complex cases, to complete.
2. For a designated project under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO), it cannot commence construction and operation until the EIA report is approved and an environmental permit issued by the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the Ordinance. According to the existing procedures, such projects will not normally be gazetted as set out in paragraph 1 above until the EIA report for the project is approved or, where appropriate, a permission by DEP has been obtained to apply directly for an environmental permit pursuant to his authority under the EIAO. This arrangement involves a sequential approach in taking a project through this part of the planning and design process.
3. Both the statutory gazetting of projects and the carrying out of EIAs together with their approval are critical pre-construction activities. The present practice of gazetting projects after completion of the EIA process suffers from the drawback of holding back the gazetting which in turn lengthens the lead time for commencing construction.
Streamlining the Public Works Procedures
4. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for shortening the lead time for completion of public works projects. As a rough indication, a medium-size roadwork project under planning today could easily take some 6 years before its construction may commence. Adding an average of 3 years for construction, a project could require some 9 years before it can be completed for public use. Such a long lead time for the delivery of a project cannot catch up with the aspirations and needs of the community. Recently, we conducted a review on the public works procedures and concluded that there is room for shortening the pre-construction lead time. Measures that could be taken include the streamlining of feasibility study procedures and shortening the land resumption process, etc. We are taking active steps to implement those measures.
New Gazetting Procedure
5. Our review also shows room for expediting the public works programme by allowing the gazetting of designated projects to take place in parallel with the EIA process. The EIAO has been effective in ensuring the environmental acceptability of a project. However, the step-by-step approach of completing the EIA process before statutory gazetting, while lengthening the pre-construction lead time, does not add any value to the EIA process. On the other hand, the taking of parallel action of gazetting and EIA process, which would in no way pre-empt the approval or otherwise of the EIA reports under the EIAO, could save up to 6 to 9 months in the project programme and contribute significantly to the speedy delivery of public works projects.
6. We therefore propose that, as a general measure, project proponents be allowed to gazette any project before completion of the EIA process. We will make it clear under the revised procedure that where a project proponent chooses to gazette a project before full completion of the EIA process, he should do so fully bearing in mind that he may need to make subsequent changes to the proposed project and re-gazette it if such changes are considered necessary as a result of the EIA process. Therefore, for projects in which we would normally envisage more public comments on environmental issues, project proponents will be required to consider with great caution whether gazetting the project before completion of the EIA process will result in lengthening the overall critical path of the project instead.
7. We propose to implement the above changes as soon as possible before the end of 2001.
Possible Impact on the Statutory EIA Process
8. The revised gazetting procedure will not undermine the EIA process, which will remain robust. It will be implemented on the clear understanding that this does not imply any approval for commencing the construction of works before the EIA process is duly completed with the EIA reports approved and the required environmental permit(s) obtained under the EIAO. Furthermore, project proponents are fully aware that changes to the design of the proposed project or re-gazetting may be required as a result of the EIA process.
9. Under the revised procedure, EIA reports of all designated projects including public works projects will continue to be subject to public exhibition and consultation with the ACE under the EIAO. All comments received will be taken into account by DEP in deciding whether the EIA report is to be approved pursuant to his statutory authority under the EIAO. This process will remain unchanged.
10. Members are requested to consider the revised gazetting procedure as set out in para. 6 of this paper.