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Advisory Council on the Environment

Confirmed Minutes of the 64th Meeting of the Environmental Impact Assessment Subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Environment held on 5 November 2001 at 4:00pm

Present:
Professor LAM Kin-che (Chairman)
Mr. Otto POON (Deputy Chairman)
Professor Anthony HEDLEY, BBS, JP
Mr. Peter Y C LEE, SBSt.J
Dr. NG Cho-nam
Mrs. Mei NG
Miss Alex YAU
Miss Petula POON (Secretary)


Absent with Apology:
Mr. Barrie COOK
Dr. HO Kin-chung
Mr. LIN Chaan-ming

In Attendance
Mr. K S CHAN Acting Assistant Director (Environmental Assessment & Noise), Environmental Protection Department (EPD) (Atg.AD(EN)/EPD)
Mr. C C LAY Assistant Director (Conservation), Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) (AD(Cons)/AFCD)
Ms. Cora SO Executive Officer (C), Environment and Food Bureau


In Attendance for Agenda Item 3 & 4:

Mr. Simon HUI Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Audit & Assessment), EPD (PEPO(AA)/EPD)

Mr. Cary HO
Senior Nature Conservation Officer (South), AFCD (SNCO(South)/AFCD)
Mr. Dick CHOI Senior Marine Conservation Officer (West), AFCD (SMCO(West)/AFCD)
Mr. Patrick LAI
Nature Conservation Officer (Yuen Long), AFCD (NCO(YL)/AFCD)


In Attendance for Agenda Item 5:

Mr. LI Wai Senior Engineer (NSL)/Major Works office (2), Highways Department (HyD) (SE(NSL)/HyD)
Mr. Simon ILLINGWORTH Project Director, Mouchel Asia Limited (MAL) (PD/MAL)
Ms. Helen COCHRANE EIA Team Leader, MAL (EIATL/MAL)
Dr. Shuan NICHOLSON Ecological Team Leader, MAL (ETL/MA)

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Agenda Item 1 : Confirmation of Minutes of 63rd Meeting held on 8 October 2001

The minutes were confirmed subject to the amendments raised by a Member.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising

2. There were no matters arising from the last meeting.

Agenda Item 3 :Draft EIAO Guidance Notes

3. The Chairman welcomed PEPO(AA)/EPD, SNCO(South)/AFCD, SMCO(West)/AFCD, NCO(TL)/AFCD to the meeting.

4. Upon the Chairman's invitation, a Member said that in addition to those raised at the last meeting, the assessment of cumulative impacts of projects should be given more attention. In the past, the cumulative impacts of minor projects in close vicinity were sometimes ignored.

"No net loss" and "like for like" principles

5. A Member said that some project proponents or the general public had different perceptions of the "no net loss" and "like for like" principles as set out in the Technical Memorandum (TM) of the EIA Ordinance (EIAO) and the Town Planning Board Guidelines (TPBG). The TM seemed to advocate compensation by area or function whereas the latter by area and function.

6. For clarification of the definitions, NCO(YL)/AFCD quoted the following paragraphs from the Town Planning Board Guidelines for Application for Developments within Deep Bay Area under Section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance No. 12B (Revised April 1999) :

"5. The no-net-loss can refer to both loss in 'area' and 'function'." But it went on to note "....As the fish ponds form an integral part of the Deep Bay Area wetland ecosystem, alternative uses could be considered suitable only if it could be demonstrated that they would not result in the loss of ecological function of the original ponds and if they complement the ecological functions of the wetlands and fish ponds in and/or around the Deep Bay Area..."

"6.1...New development within the WCA (Wetland Conservation Area) would not be allowed unless it is required to support the conservation of the ecological value of the area or the development is an essential infrastructural project with overriding public interest. Any such development should be supported by an ecological impact assessment to demonstrate that the development would not result in a net loss in wetland function and negative disturbance impact..."

Then he quoted the following paragraph from Annex 16 of the TM of EIAO :

"5.4.5(d) the off-site mitigation measures shall be on a "like for like" basis, to the extent that this is practicable. That is to say, any compensatory measures to be adopted for mitigating the residual ecological impacts must be directly related to the habitats or species to be protected. Either the same kind of species or habitats of the same size shall be compensated, or the project proponent shall demonstrate that the same kind of ecological function and capacity can be achieved through the measures to compensate for the ecological impacts...."

NCO(YL)/AFCD said that there was no discrepancy between the two principles as elaborated in the above passages because both emphasized no net loss in ecological function, only that the TM provided a prior alternative compensation by the same kind of species or habitats of the same size. Therefore, para. 27 of GN004/2001 was written along the line of the TM by allowing compensation by ecological functions and capacity if the same size of compensation area was not available.

7. In reply to the Chairman's question, AD(Cons)/AFCD said that one should refer to the EIAO when considering applications under the Ordinance and to the TPBG when dealing with development proposals or applications for change in land use under section 16 of the Town Planning Ordinance (TPO). The Spur Line project was not subject to the latter statutory process.

8. A Member said that some private developers had been alleging that the Government adopted double standards in respect of compensation for private and government projects. AD(Cons)/AFCD said that AFCD was consulted on compensation proposals of projects which were subject to either EIAO or TPO. He discounted the allegation by affirming that the same standards were applied to both types of projects and the emphasis of the consideration was whether or not the project proponents could demonstrate convincingly in a compensation package that the "no net loss" principle was adhered to and whether they had the commitment to deliver and sustain the mitigation measures at the end of the projects.

9. A Member believed that the Town Planning Board would make balanced decisions after taking into account the views of the representatives of different departments sitting on the Board. He considered that in view of the different nature of private and Government projects, the factors of consideration should also be different. AD(Cons)/AFCD pointed out that new developments within the WCA would not normally be allowed unless supported by overriding public interest.

10. A Member said that although the Administration considered that there was no discrepancy between the TM and (TPBG), the GN should convey a message to project proponents that they should not propose a compensation package of equivalent/enhanced ecological function without making an effort to exhaust all measures to avoid environmental impacts in the first place.

11. PEPO(AA)/EPD explained that there was only one TM on the EIA process and all applications under the EIAO will be vetted in accordance with the criteria and guidelines in the TM. He further clarified that the GN was only to facilitate applicants to prepare their submissions. There is no intention to amend the TM at this stage.

12. A Member said that the "like for like" principle as set out in the TM was ambiguous. Section 4.4.3(b)(iii) of the TM stated that "When evaluating the residual environmental impacts,...the degree of compliance with relevant established principles and criteria published and adopted in Hong Kong in the conduct of EIA and in the application of the EIA process (shall be considered)..". She took it that the TPBG should be referred to as well for a clearer definition of "like for like". She said that from an ecological point of view, it was always desirable to compensate in terms of both area and ecological function. If too much emphasis was put on area, the proponents might propose pockets of area to make up for the compensation for a large piece of habitat lost. That would defeat the objective of conservation. She urged the Authority to pay special attention to the above point when the TM was reviewed and in the meantime the GN should make that point clear. She also pointed out that "no net loss" was not mentioned in the TM and thus if it was to be used in the GN004/2001, cross reference would be necessary.

13. A Member said that even if the wordings in the TM and GN were revised, the uncertainty of the adequacy of a compensation package could not be eliminated due to the complexity of the ecosystem of wetland. That was when the precautionary approach should come into place so as to avoid environmental impacts at the very beginning of a project.

14. A Member said that in reality it was difficult for the developers to obtain a piece of land of the same size for compensation of habitat lost. The developers would tend to resort to compensation by ecological function. Therefore, instead of compensation by area and function, emphasis should be placed on function and focus should be placed on defining and measuring ecological function.

15. AD(Cons)/AFCD added that it would be practically very difficult, if not impossible, for the project proponents to compensate habitat loss by area. For instance, in compensating wetland loss, the compensatory/enhanced wetland would have to be created on existing wetlands which would result in a net loss.
 

 
16. The Chairman said that there was no dispute over the need to avoid impacts before considering compensation and the need for evidence to prove the adequacy of compensation by ecological function. The remaining question was whether the GN should explicitly spell out the priority of compensation by area and then by function. In response, a Member suggested and AFCD agreed to revise the wordings of para. 27 of GN004/2001 having regard to the views expressed by members.

Precautionary Principle

17. SNCO(South)/AFCD said that they would consider the proposal of drawing up a set of guidance note on precautionary principle. A Member suggested deferring the discussion on that subject when the draft note was ready.

Ecological Database

18. AD(Cons)/AFCD briefed Members that AFCD was preparing a centralized ecological database for Hong Kong through reviewing existing information including the results of the Biodiversity Survey undertaken by the University of Hong Kong, the territory-wide mangrove survey by the City University of Hong Kong as well as information held by AFCD and consultants and information obtained from previous EIA studies. At the same time, in view of the dynamic nature of habitats, they would carry out site visits to verify the data obtained. It was anticipated that a preliminary set of database could be produced by the end of next year. He stressed that the availability of the database would not do away the need for the consultants to undertake ecological baseline surveys, which were specific for their projects. SNCO(South)/AFCD supplemented that the last point AD(Cons)/AFCD mentioned was clearly explained in Para. 2.1 of GN008/2001.

19. In response to a Member's question, AD(Cons)/AFCD said that the preliminary database would be a dummy of a more comprehensive model, which the Secretary for the Environment and Food had committed in her Policy Address. As more time would be needed to collect, review, and verify ecological data, the more comprehensive database (including marine data) would be ready by 2004/05.

20. The Chairman asked how the data obtained from different projects could contribute to the centralized database. He suggested standardizing the format of data so that the format could be fed into the database more conveniently. AD(Cons)/AFCD agreed to consider the Chairman's suggestion in the course of establishing the database.

21. On the Chairman's question in what way the Subcommittee could assist in the process, AD(Cons)/AFCD said that it was important to understand Members' expectation of the comprehensiveness of the database. He said that they had adopted a habitat-oriented approach instead of a species-oriented approach, as the former would ensure a more reliable set of data. He hoped Members would appreciate the difficulties of the task and the limitations involved and would not expect a database that would cover the territory on an "inch-by-inch" basis.

22. A Member asked what mechanism would be in place to evaluate the accuracy of data collected and to address the incongruity of the data of different surveys. She also asked if there would be a system to allow cross-referencing of data. In reply, AD(Cons)/AFCD said that they would rely on existing data, experience and professional judgment to verify the accuracy and reliability of data. Ground-checking surveys would also be conducted to verify the accuracy of data. Regarding cross-referencing, AD(Cons)/AFCD said that it had been a regular practice for them to make cross-referencing of data between different studies when giving out advice.

23. A Member welcomed the setting up of a centralized database. He said that the database would facilitate the scoping process of EIA if it were up-to-date and site-specific. He said that probably due to the availability of data for comparison, there had been emphasis in the assessment of certain groups of wildlife (such as birds) in past EIAs. He expected that the centralized database would help achieve more balanced assessments in future. He also asked whether the Government was determined to invest in the maintenance and updating of the database. In reply, AD(Cons)/AFCd said that AFCD would submit an application for funding to set up, maintain and update the database. Two Members indicated that they supported the funding application.

24. A Member appreciated the efforts of AFCD in conducting such a massive exercise and he agreed with two Members' point about filtering and upkeeping the database. 25. In response to Members' enquiry, AD(Cons)/AFCD confirmed that marine data would be included in the database as well. 26. The Chairman concluded that the Subcommittee fully supported the setting up of an ecological database.

25. In response to Members' enquiry, AD(Cons)/AFCD confirmed that marine data would be included in the database as well.

26. The Chairman concluded that the Subcommittee fully supported the setting up of an ecological database.

Cumulative Impacts
 

AFCD
27. Due to time constraint, the Chairman asked EPD to consider drawing up guidelines on cumulative impacts and encouraged Members to write in their suggestions and views about soil survey, ecological chain reaction arising from impacts on less significant species and habitats. PEPO(AA)/EPD said he would give thoughts to the suggestion.

28. A Member pointed out that consultants had been merely listing out the species found in the vicinity of the project but failed to map out the functions of the habitats in their assessments. She suggested reflecting that point in GN008/2001.

Agenda Item 4 : Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance Observations About the Statutory EIA Process Arising from the Appeal Board Determination
(ACE-EIA Paper 14/2001)

 

EPD
29. Given the time constraint, the Chairman asked the Secretary to draft the report based on the discussion at the last meeting and circulate it to Members for consolidation.

Agenda Item 5 : Improvement to Tung Chung Road between Lung Tseng Tau and Cheung Sha
(ACE-EIA Paper 15/2001)

30. The Chairman welcomed SE(NSL)/HyD, PD/MAL, EIATL/MAL and ETL/MAL to the meeting. SE(NSL)/HyD started off with the background of the project, followed by a detailed comparison of the alignment options by PD/MAL. SE(NSL)/HyD then highlighted the future usage of obsolete sections of Tung Chung Road.

31. In response to the Chairman's question, PD/MAL said that they intended to submit the EIA report to EPD in mid-February 2002.

32. Noting that a twin tube tunnel with two lanes in each tube as proposed in options N3 and N4 would be more costly and cause more adverse environmental impacts, a Member asked whether the consultants had considered building a single tube tunnel for one way traffic while using the existing Tung Chung Road for opposite traffic. In reply, SE(NSL)/HyD said that they had considered the combination. PD/MAL elaborated that using the existing Tung Chung Road for one-way traffic road was not favoured due to its substandard design. Even if the tunnel were single-tubed, considerable earthwork would still be required which would not only have adverse impacts on the nearby streams but also increase the construction costs.

33. On a Member's question on vehicular speed of the new road, PD/MAL said that the design speed would be 70 km per hour but the maximum speed allowed would be set at 50 km per hour for the sake of safety. SE(NSL)/HyD elaborated that only the radii of curvatures at the road bends could meet the design standard of 70 km per hour. The maximum gradient of the road would be 15% and hence the maximum speed allowed would be set at 50 km per hour.

34. As a follow up question, a Member asked whether there would be any benefits in terms of site footprint and environmental impacts if the road was designed to a standard lower than 70 km per hour. In response, PD/MAL explained that there would be no difference because the preferred alignment was relatively straight and there was no point in designing the road bends to a lower design standard.

35. A Member felt that the provision of roads often failed to catch up with rising demand. He appreciated the importance of conserving the natural environment of Hong Kong but it was equally important to allow room for economic growth, in this case tourism, by designing a road to accommodate the future demand. In this regard, he asked whether the project proponent had taken into account potential demand from both local residents and overseas tourists. In response, PD/MAL said that as a usual practice for this kind of development project, they had considered the estimated population figures and other planning assumptions in the South West New Territories Development Strategy Review (SWNTDSR) provided by the Planning Department. SD(NSL)/HyD supplemented that Planning Department had advised that South Lantau would be used for conservation and recreation purposes. According to the traffic forecast which had taken into account the cable car project, the new road upon completion could cater for traffic demand for 15 years.

36. A Member asked whether the project proponent would take into account the traffic demand in the event that a link with Zhuhai was established in the near future. SE(NSL)/HyD said that traffic forecast was based on planning assumptions in the SWNTDSR given by the Planning Department. Another Member pointed out that the Subcommittee had supported the plan to develop South Lantau for conservation and recreation purposes as set out in the SWNTDSR. Hence, it was important that while catering for traffic demand, the primary objective of the project was to improve the safety of Tung Chung Road with minimum impacts on the environment. A third Member agreed.

37. A Member noted that a pipe would be installed to carry away site run-offs from the road at the construction stage. He asked whether the pipe would become a permanent feature upon completion of the project. PD/MAL said the pipe would be maintained to collect road runoff after completion of the road so as to reduce pollution to the Tung Chung Stream.

38. Referring to Section A-A on Annex D of the paper, a Member asked whether the grassed verge could be used as a cycling path for the local residents who had raised this question to him. In reply, PD/MAL said that the road was not recommended for cycling as it was too steep for that purpose.

39. In reply to a Member's question on the need for the grassed verge, SE(NSL)/HyD said that a 2-meter wide verge was the minimum requirement to accommodate the existing and planned utility services required.

40. In reply to a Member's question, PD/MAL said that S1 would cause less noise impacts than S3 because the villages were located more closely to S3 than to S1 and the plantation woodland along S1 could help screening off Cheung Sha Sheung Tsuen from traffic noise

41. On a Member's question, PD/MAL said that they would minimize the visual impacts for S1 by putting screen planting on the short retaining wall in front of the road to help mask it at the hillside. The plantation woodland alongside the section of the road could also serve to reduce the visual impacts.

42. A Member noted that Annex D showed that there would be 12 bridges on the proposed alignment and urged the consultants to pay special attention to the construction impacts of the bridges to the streams in the EIA. PD/MAL replied that the impacts would be assessed in the EIA report.

43. The Chairman thanked the proponent and consultants for the briefing and emphasized that the exchange of views would not pre-empt the future discussion and views of the Subcommittee when the EIA report was formally submitted under the EIAO.

Agenda Item 6 : Any Other Business

Monthly Update of Applications under EIAO

44. Members noted the updates.

Tentative Items for Next Meeting

45. The Chairman informed Members that the EIA report on "Demolition of Kwai Chung Incineration Plant" was scheduled for discussion at the next meeting. Also, the representatives of the Hong Kong Construction Association would discuss with the Subcommittee the importance of ensuring the practicability of mitigation measures.

46. The Chairman relayed the request from the Transport Bureau that KCRC would like to have an informal dialogue with the Subcommittee to exchange views on the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line project on 19 November 2001. Two Members recalled that at the last ACE meeting, the Chairman also encouraged the project proponent to have an early exchange of views with the Subcommittee before formal submission of the EIA report under the EIAO.

47 Two Members said that since the project proponent had already briefed Members on their new option, an informal dialogue would only be useful if KCRC had new information or data about the EIA study and would address Members' concerns raised previously. The Secretary confirmed that that was the intention of the Transport Bureau and KCRC when they made the request.
 

Secretary
48 The Chairman asked the Secretariat to convey Members' views to the Transport Bureau and to request for an advance copy of the information/data to be discussed. He said that the informal dialogue would be postponed if no new information since the last briefing was available. Secretariat

Agenda Item 7 : Date of Next Meeting

49. The Chairman informed the meeting that the next meeting which was originally scheduled for 3 December 2001 would clash with the meeting between ACE and the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs. Therefore the meeting would be advanced to 26 November 2001.

EIA Subcommittee Secretariat
November 2001

 

Secretary
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