15. A Member suggested that, apart from using quieter vehicle engines and restricting bus routes, the project proponent should erect noise barriers to further reduce the traffic noise impact. The Chairman said that the Council had discussed the lack of provisions in existing ordinances to abate traffic noise exceedances. The Administration had already implemented an on-going scheme to address noise impacts of existing roads. He asked the Secretariat to provide a copy of the past ACE paper on the subject for that Member's reference.(Post-meeting notes : ACE Paper 39/2000 on Measures to Address Noise Impact of Existing Roads was sent to that Member on 28 September 2001)
16. A Member said that the traffic volume in Hong Kong was already at an alarming level. Endorsing another bus depot facility would be indirectly encouraging more buses on the road. He therefore asked whether it would be possible for the Citybus to share KMB's depots in nearby area. In response, the Chairman said that the need for the depot was outside the remit of the Council and endorsing the EIA report did not imply that the Council accepted the need for the project. He personally felt that it was difficult for the two bus companies to share depot facilities. However, he appreciated Mr. Lau's concern and said that it might be useful to line up a meeting with the Transport Advisory Committee (TAC) to express the Council's views on traffic volume in future.
17. In response to that Member's follow- up question, The EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the project proponent had already obtained land for the depot.
18. A Member informed the meeting that being also a member of TAC, he was aware that the Council and TAC considered transport projects in different perspectives. TAC would assess transport projects in the context of meeting public demand for transportation without causing congestion. Environmental impact was apparently not TAC's major concern.
19. The Chairman proposed and Members agreed to endorse the EIA report with the condition recommended by the Subcommittee.
Agenda Item 4 : Promoting Prevention and Recovery of Domestic Waste
(ACE Paper 36/2001)
20. The Chairman welcomed PAS(B)2/EFB and AD(WF)/EPD to the meeting. PAS(B)2/EFB briefed Members on the Government's initiatives to further promote prevention and recovery of domestic waste. 21. The Chairman asked, on behalf of two Members, about the timeframe of the landfill charging scheme and whether the Administration would consider offering employment subsidy to workers engaged in waste recovery and recycling operations so as to alleviate the unemployment situation as well as to make the industry more commercially viable.
22. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB said that as stated in paragraph 24 of the paper, the Administration had been consulting the relevant trades on landfill charging and would consult the Council on the details of the proposed scheme probably within the year. As regards subsidy to the trade, PAS(B)2/EFB said that the objective of the initiatives was to promote prevention and recovery of domestic waste rather than to create job opportunities. That said, she envisaged that some of the measures would help create jobs. For example, the processing of the increased amount of waste collected might demand a bigger workforce in the industry.
23. The Chairman recalled that last year there were news reports about dumping at landfills of waste that had been collected for recycling. He asked how the Administration would ensure that the waste collected would be recycled. In reply, PAS(B)2/EFB said that for recovery of papers, plastics and aluminium cans, contractors concerned were required to provide documentary proofs that the waste collected had been properly transferred to recyclers. In addition, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department would conduct spot checks on contractors. Proponents of projects funded by the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) would also be required to provide similar proofs. On the alleged dumping of waste collected, PAS(B)2/EFB clarified that there was no evidence for large-scale dumping of separated waste which was intended for recycling. If there were such cases, EPD staff manning the landfill gates would have spotted on site. The Chairman suggested that the allegations be clarified.
24. A Member cautioned that to avoid dumping of recyclables collected, the Government should ensure that there were sufficient outlets for those materials, particularly as the amount collected was expected to increase. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB confirmed that the waste recycling/processing industries had spare capacities to handle 20% to 30% more waste using its existing workforce.
25. Pointing out that projects supported by the ECF were mainly research projects, a Member asked whether there were guidelines for ECF to give more weight to waste prevention and recovery programmes. Another Member shared the same concern and suggested that ECF should make clear statements in this regard so as to attract potential applicants. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB clarified that the ECF would support both research and educational/community involvement projects. In fact, a larger proportion had been spent on educational and community involvement projects in the past few years. The Administration would discuss with the ECF Committee on the means to ensure that the $100 million could be used largely for waste prevention/recovery programmes in the coming years.
26. On the point of government leadership, a Member suggested reminding the Town Planning Board Secretariat to reduce paper consumption as a considerable quantity of bulky reports was often re-issued to Board members when discussion of any item was postponed to subsequent meetings.
(Post meeting note : The Town Planning Board Secretariat had in fact carried out a review of the paper consumption problem last year. Apart from asking Members to leave behind the reports on cases of deferment, the Secretariat will collect the reports on all rejected s.16 applications and objections not upheld and save them for future meetings/reviews/objection hearings. This will reduce the number of reports required from applicants/objectors. Nevertheless, the Secretariat will further review the practice to see if further improvement can be made.)
27. A Member was concerned that neither the Council nor the Waste Reduction Committee (WRC) were informed of the package of initiatives before the Government announced it in public. She also considered it more appropriate for the WRC to vet and approve applications for ECF because many community groups were concerned that the Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC) might get the bulk of the Fund. In addition, she suggested maximizing the use of refuse transfer stations by allowing temporary storage of recyclables therein during non-operation hours. Finally, she believed that Government's efforts should focus on waste reduction at source rather than exploring for more landfills.
28. In response to that Member' s first question, PAS(B)2/EFB said that the initiatives had mostly arisen from past discussions at the ACE and WRC. The Bureau had issued letters to members of the two organizations briefing them on the details of the package on the same day of the announcement. As regards allocation of ECF, PAS(B)2/EFB assured the meeting that each funding application would be considered on its own merits. As the ECC was responsible for organizing territory wide campaigns, it would unlikely be involved in community-based waste recycling projects. Instead, it would assist the ECF Committee in vetting funding applications and monitoring the progress of funded projects. In the past few months, a number of such community projects, including some from green groups, had been funded.
29. As for refuse transfer stations, PAS(B)2/EFB said that most of the stations operated throughout the day. Nonetheless, where space was available, EPD would examine the feasibility of utilizing the space for waste recovery purpose. To facilitate waste separation and recovery, FEHD had placed waste separation bins in 40 refuse collection points, and would increase the number to 130 in the next few months. PAS(B)2/EFB agreed that the top priority should be waste reduction at source. However, given the fact that the capacity of the existing landfills would run out in 10 to 15 years' time and that there were always non-recyclable waste and it would take about 10 years to build a landfill, the Government had to plan ahead and start identifying possible sites for landfills.
30. A Member said that, partly due to high land costs, the cost of waste recycling in Hong Kong was high. He asked whether the Government had considered co-operating with the Mainland on waste recycling. PAS(B)2/EFB replied that the Administration had close liaison with the Mainland authorities At present, primary processing of the recyclables collected was mostly carried out in Hong Kong. However, the re-manufacturing process was normally carried out in the Mainland.
31. A Member asked whether the Basel Convention restricted Hong Kong from exporting batteries to developing countries where there should be markets for such materials. AD(WF)/EPD said that batteries were classified as chemical waste and according to the Basel Convention, they could only be processed by qualified recycling plants. At the moment there was no such plant in developing countries. In the meantime, the Government was trying to promote the recycling of mobile phone batteries and had initially obtained co-operation from mobile phone manufacturers. It was hoped that there would be some progress in batteries recycling early next year.
32. The Chairman considered that Hong Kong would be in a better position to co-operate with the Mainland if the recyclables could be reused as raw materials. He also suggested that the Government should consider subsidizing export of recyclables by savings in landfill costs.
33. A Member commended the Government's initiatives, in particular in developing procurement guidelines that would encourage waste prevention and recycling. However, he reckoned that there was still room for the use of subsidy as economic instruments. He looked forward to the implementation of the landfill charging scheme because one third of the waste disposed of every year came from construction and demolition projects. He suggested that the Council should impress upon the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs on the need and urgency of the landfill-charging scheme when Members met them later.
34. In response to that Member's comments, PAS(B)2/EFB said that direct subsidy might not be conducive to the long-term growth of the recycling industry. Nevertheless, the new measures in encouraging and facilitating recycling should bring about business opportunities for the industry. The availability of both long-term and short-term land should also help foster the development of the industry.
35. A Member said according to her discussion with two recycling operators, what they needed the most was temporary storage space near their factories. The proposed Recovery Park in Tuen Mun Area 38 would be too far away for them and would increase the operating costs. They were also concerned about berthing charges and would like the Government to consider providing convenient barging facilities. 36. In response, PAS(B)2/EFB said that apart from the proposed Recovery Park, the Government would continue to provide short-term tenancy sites to waste collectors. As regards barging facilities, the Recovery Park would have sea frontage and could thus provide berthing facilities solely for the use of the recycling industry.
37. A Member pointed out that the decrease in the price of waste papers, wooden chips and paper pulp had discouraged the development of paper recycling trade in Hong Kong. Another Member said that the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Plant was already a precedent case of Government providing direct subsidy to waste treatment operators.
38. In response to Members' comments, AD(WF)/EPD said that the Government had established very close contacts with waste collectors and was fully aware of the operation and the difficulties encountered by the industry. On the previous Member's point, AD(WF)/EPD said that the price of papers fluctuated in the world market. Many imported waste papers were recycled in Asia. Since the recycling market in Hong Kong was relatively small, competition with Asian recycling operators was unavoidable.
39. The Chairman concluded that the initiatives were well received and were a big step towards the right direction in reducing waste. The Council fully supported the Government's new initiatives and urged for early introduction of landfill charging. He suggested that Members pass their further comments, if any, to the Secretariat for onward submission to the Bureau.
Agenda Item 5 : Revised Administrative Procedures on the Statutory Gazetting of Public Works Projects
(ACE Paper 38/2001)
40. The Chairman welcomed DS(PR)/WB and CAS(PM)/WB to the meeting. DS(PR)/WB briefed Members on the revised procedures.
41. The Chairman said that a Member had indicated his support for the new procedures as long as works would not commence before the EIAO process was duly completed with the EIA report approved and the required environmental permit issued.
42. A Member said that based on his experience, only a very small percentage of EIA reports submitted for ACE's consideration were controversial, and for those few cases, the problem often laid with inadequate consideration of alternative alignments/options. He said that the disadvantage of gazetting a project in parallel with EIA process was that project proponents might become reluctant to revise the project at a later stage even if the results of the EIA were unsatisfactory. He therefore suggested that project proponents should consider briefing the EIA Subcommittee on alternative alignments/options before conducting the EIA study so that views of the Subcommittee could be taken into account before they invested too much time and resources into an alternative.
43. DS(PR)/WB said that the purpose of the revised procedures was to speed up the public works programme. When informing works departments of the new procedures, his Bureau would state clearly that the departments would need to revise their project and re-gazette it if such changes were considered necessary as a result of the EIA process. As suggested by Members, they would encourage works departments to seek views from the Council as early as possible.
44. A Member suggested that, since there was likelihood that a gazetted project would be revised subsequently to gazetting, public works projects should be divided into categories and only those which were unlikely to be amended should be allowed for earlier gazettal. DS(PR)/WB assured Members that project proponents would adopt the revised procedures only if there was such a need and would do so only after due consideration including the risk of re-gazetting.
45. A Member said that some issues of concern were often not identified during preliminary assessment. He therefore considered it imprudent to gazette public works projects in parallel with the EIA process. DS(PR)/WB said that at the early project inception stage, there were already plenty of opportunities for identifying issues for the EIA study. He emphasized that normally parallel gazettal was only expected to be made when the EIA study was in progress by which time major environmental concerns should have been identified.
46. A Member proposed that a list of projects to be gazetted in advance of completion of EIA study be made available to the Council so that Members would have an opportunity to identify potential problems. The Chairman, however, disagreed and said that the onus should be on the project proponent to sound out the Council of any potential problems rather than the Council taking the lead.
47. A Member welcomed the revised procedures which would expedite the public works programme and indirectly enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong. Notwithstanding that, he felt that there was still room to further shorten the lead-time for completion of public works projects. DS(PR)/WB said that Works Bureau had introduced various measures over the years to streamline the procedures and had reduced the pre-construction lead-time from six to four years. They would continue to adopt measures to expedite public works projects without undermining the integrity of the EIA process.
48. In response to a Member's question on how EPD could help to speed up the EIA process, DEP said that the EIA process was not considered long compared to the whole timeframe of a public works project. Most parts of the EIA process were already carried out in parallel with other procedures. The EIA Ordinance stipulated time limits for public consultation of the project profile and EIA report of a designated project, and for the Authority to respond and take further steps. He was unwilling to cut short the consultation period. Instead, the department had been endeavoring to respond before the statutory time limit but sometimes it took time to consult AFCD and other relevant parties. EPD had been exploring whether the Authority could participate at an earlier stage, say before the statutory EIA process began, and hence prevent project proponents from proceeding with projects where there were unresolved environmental impacts. However, he noted that the most controversial issue was usually in relation to the ecological impact of a project which was very difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. He believed that the situation would improve when a more systematic ecological database of Hong Kong was available. In a nutshell, he considered that enhanced communication between EPD, AFCD and works departments in the early planning stages would help speed up the EIA process.
49. A Member said that since the implementation of the EIA Ordinance in 1998, the average consultation time with ACE was 47 days out of the 60-day statutory limit. He agreed with DEP that the earlier the dialogue between relevant parties, the greater the possibility of working out solutions for problems identified.
50. A Member echoed the points made by DEP and another Member. She considered that until a comprehensive conservation policy was in place, the safest way to protect the environment from incompatible development was to examine the project in detail and plug every gap of uncertainty therein. This might mean lodging objections to gazettes that could only be resolved after completion of the EIA process. She remained skeptical of a shortened process, and therefore had reservations on the proposed revisions.
51. A Member said that there were cases where the EIA process was lengthened due to the lack of information provided. Project proponents could help speed up the process by presenting EIA reports holistically, in particular by including the cumulative impacts of other projects in the vicinity. She asked who would decide which projects could be gazetted in parallel with the EIA process and whether criteria would be set for making such decisions.
52. A Member said that Works Bureau/works departments should be responsible for deciding which project could adopt the revised procedures. He did not think that the ACE should give comments on projects before the submission of EIA reports because that would give the impression that ACE supported certain projects when the EIA study had yet to complete. He reckoned that the EIA Ordinance had sufficient safeguards to prevent problematic projects from proceeding as works of a designated project could not start without a valid environmental permit.
53. In reply to Members' comments, DS(PR)/WB said that they would urge works departments to work closely with EPD and AFCD during the project inception stage and throughout the process to identify and address environmental concerns as early as possible. He said that Works Bureau would ensure that projects impinging upon environmentally sensitive areas would be handled very carefully.
54. A Member said that although he accepted what DS(PR)/WB presented at the meeting, he had reservation on the paper. There was nothing in writing of the points made by him at the meeting. DS(C)/EFB said that what DS(PR)/WB said at the meeting would be properly recorded in the minutes. Works Bureau had made an undertaking that works departments would take into account comments from EPD and AFCD and consider very carefully whether to opt for early gazettal. They would consider carefully if early gazettal would shorten the pre-construction lead time or whether it would likely be counter-productive if the likelihood of subsequent revisions were high. He suggested that Works Bureau should revise the relevant Technical Circular to encourage works departments to brief the ACE on initial EIA findings as and when appropriate. DS(PR)/WB agreed.
55. The Chairman concluded that the Council agreed with the revised administrative procedures and urged project proponents to keep EPD, AFCD and the Council informed of issues deserving their attention at early stages. Two Members registered their reservation on the revised procedures.
Agenda Item 6 : Shenzhen Western Corridor and Deep Bay Link
(ACE Paper 37/2001)
56. The Chairman welcomed PAS/TB and her team to the meeting. PAS/TB introduced the background of the proposed new boundary crossing followed by a detailed presentation of the proposed alignment of the crossing and link roads by AD/OAP.
57. The Chairman suggested that Transport Bureau (TB) should arrange a visit for Members to study the sites involved in the project so that Members could gain a better understanding about the project and the environmental issues concerned. PAS/TB agreed.
[The Chairman handed over the chair to Prof. Lam Kin-che (the Acting Chairman) and left the meeting at this juncture due to other commitments.]
58. The Acting Chairman recalled that when the paper on cross border link was submitted to the EIA Subcommittee a few years ago, the project proponent said that the EIA of the project would be conducted in two phases, the first being the study on alignments and options. He noted that the findings of that study were not included in the paper and asked if TB could provide such details to Members.