Environment Protection  DepartmentThe Operation of Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance in Hong Kong
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The Path to Environmental Impact Assessment in Hong Kong

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History and Development of Environmental Impact Assessment in Hong Kong

The effort to formulate a set of administrative EIA procedures for public and private sector projects, with regard to developmental pressures and social characteristics started in 1979. The application of the EIA process by pioneers in the then Environmental Protection Agency resulted in the integration of environmental considerations into the site selection, design, construction and operation of major development projects such as a new coal-fired 1,700MW power station, the development of Tin Shui Wai new town and Chek Lap Kok airport. During this period, a limited number (23 in total) of EIAs were completed.

In 1985, the emphasis on the integration of environmental factors into the land use planning process led to the formation of a set of environmental standards and guidelines incorporated into the Hong Kong Planning and Standards Guidelines.

Shortly afterwards, the EIA process in Hong Kong developed from an ad hoc requirement imposed on a small number of government and private infrastructure projects, to a set of systematic administrative procedures to be followed by proponents of all major or environmentally significant development projects (private and public) in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Government issued in 1986 an internal directive entitled 'Environmental Review of Major Development Projects', which set out the screening process and EIA requirements for public works. The administrative EIA procedures were subsequently laid down in two other documents. During this period, a total of about 80 EIA's were completed, covering a wide range of projects such as roads, sewage treatment works, major residential developments and waste disposal facilities.

During the 1990s, the number of EIA's continued to increase significantly. From 1992 to 1994, a total of 239 EIA's were completed or ongoing, compared to only 80 EIAs during the previous six-year period. A strong demand was voiced from the public, district boards, the Legislative Council and other government advisory bodies for a more thorough consideration of environmental impacts of development projects before the commencement of construction. The EIA process underwent three major developments during this period. First, the process was formally stated as a planning tool for decision-makers included a conflict resolution mechanism to resolve disagreements. Second, a new requirement was added to make EIA reports available to the public for open inspection. Third, a formal system of environmental monitoring and auditing was introduced to track the actual performance of projects.

Since the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Department has contributed to a number of strategic planning studies, including the Territorial Development Strategy Review. In his policy address in October 1992, the Governor of Hong Kong introduced a new requirement for EIAs to be included in study papers submitted to the Executive Council. Because of this initiative, policy submissions to the Executive Council must now include environmental implications sections to assist in better decision-making. Likewise, environmental implications sections have become a prerequisite for all requests by public sector projects for funding approval considered by the Public Works Sub-Committee of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee. 'Environmental Implication' statements have since been included in study papers seeking funding and policy approval.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Bill was introduced for its first reading in the Legislative Council on 31 January 1996 and was debated.

The EIA Ordinance was subsequently enacted on 4 February 1997 and its two subsidary regulations on the appeal board and application fees were approved by the Provisional Legislative Council in June and November 1997 respectively. The Ordinance came into operation on 1 April 1998. For the first time in Hong Kong, environmental impact assessments became mandatory for designated projects. It is now an offense to construct, operate or decommission a designated project listed in Schedule II of the EIA Ordinance without an environmental permit or contrary to the conditions, if any, set out in the permit.

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