Windows of opportunity
are occasions for making a difference. In environmental assessment
in Hong Kong, stakeholders have been able to give input through
such windows, often to positive effect. Project proponents have
been able to demonstrate to the public how environmental impacts
are being addressed and mitigated, while green groups, affected
individuals and others have been able to raise their concerns. The
Hong Kong system is a world leader in terms of its transparency.
But as in most things, there is room for improvement, in particular,
for opening the windows of opportunity even wider.
law allows for public input through two "windows": the
exhibition of the project profile of a development and the subsequent
exhibition of its environmental impact assessment (EIA) report.
A project may have undergone several rounds of planning or design
before the release of these documents, which can make further changes
difficult or very expensive to implement. The Environmental Protection
Department (EPD) therefore is working with other government departments
and private developers to keep the windows for public input open
and ensure there is continuous public involvement on any major project
that affects the environment.
The move towards
greater transparency is a natural progression of Hong Kong's EIA
system, which has developed rapidly since the EIA Ordinance came
into operation in 1998. Not only have all major developments been
required to go through the statutory EIA process, but various channels
have been set up to give the public opportunities to provide their
input into the process using the latest technology.
are posted on the EPD's EIAO website (http://www.epd.gov.hk/eia)
to collect views before study briefs are issued to project proponents
to undertake EIA studies. Later, the EIA reports are also posted
on the website for public comment. The public is also welcome to
keep track of projects that are approved. Environmental monitoring
and audit results are published on dedicated websites for major
projects. In January 2003, the first on-site webcam was installed,
enabling the public 24-hour access to visually inspect on-going
works. The combination of a sophisticated ordinance, opportunities
for public input and easy access to information are unusual, even
by international standards, and Hong Kong has become a world leader
in this field.
there are still improvements to be made. This became apparent in
2000 when the EIA for the Lok Ma Chau spurline was rejected on the
grounds that it would cause unacceptable impacts on the wetlands
of Long Valley. Some 225 public submissions on the case were received,
the highest number at the time, highlighting the need for public
consultation at an earlier stage. The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation
went back to the drawing board and drew up a new plan, which was
approved in 2002. It also involved key green groups in a number
of issues, enabling concerns and potential areas of conflict to
be identified and resolved early on.
This early resolution
of issues is central to the idea of continuous public involvement.
It is far easier to make changes to an alignment before a project
profile or EIA are completed, than to do so after the fact. Project
proponents can save money by avoiding costly delays or mitigation,
while stakeholders have an opportunity to offer their expertise
and views before irreversible decisions are made. The "win-win"
nature of continuous public involvement is finding a growing number
of supporters among project proponents. The Environment, Transport
and Works Bureau has included it in its September 2003 technical
circular, Guidelines and Procedures for Environmental Impact Assessment
of Government Projects and Proposals. The matter is also being promoted
during EIA training sessions with government officers and the private
is keen to promote continuous public involvement (CPI), a
concept that allows on-going public participation in the EIA
process. Through CPI, people can see how information is gathered,
how different models of prediction are chosen and what alternatives
are considered. Most importantly, they can contribute their
knowledge and views at any stage in the process, thereby helping
to ensure that the outcome is acceptable.
in action: The Spurline Project
project is a major railway development running through and
adjacent to environmentally sensitive areas. An Environmental
Committee has been set up, chaired by a senior director of
the developer and with membership from green groups, academia,
the Advisory Council on Environment, the government and other
interested parties. The committee is overseeing and monitoring
the environmental performance of the project.
in action: The Helipad Projects
Islands Helipad projects will replace the existing substandard
helipads on Peng Chau and Lamma Island, mainly for emergency
purposes. The proponent adopted the CPI concept during the
early planning stages, and proactively involved green groups,
the District Council, local residents and other stakeholders
in preparing the EIA report, through such fora as a consultation
meeting and a value management workshop.
is the largest developer in Hong Kong so the EPD has paid special
attention to training and supporting government officers in all
matters green. We began back in 1993 by offering basic training
to green managers and over the years we have developed more specialised
training to address specific issues such as environmental management
and auditing and the production of environmental performance reports.
In 2002, we drew up a training programme for government works departments
to enhance their understanding of the EIA mechanism, and in 2003
we devised a manual on EIA training and capacity building for them.
The manual explains some basic principles about EIAs, includes real
project examples, and inevitably touches on the issue of public
involvement. Apart from enhancing understanding of the EIA mechanism,
the manual is intended to help project proponents manage their EIA
process more smoothly.
The EIA training
manual will be widely distributed to those who are responsible for
EIAs or projects that require EIAs. It is also a useful springboard
for encouraging the private sector to follow suit. Copies have been
sent to the Hong Kong Construction Association, the power companies
and other private operators. By demonstrating that the government
is following the spirit of transparency in the EIA process, and
not just the letter, it becomes easier to persuade others to do
The need for
transparency and openness in assessing individual projects also
extends to policies, plans and programmes. The EPD has taken a lead,
internationally, in promoting the use of "strategic environmental
assessments" (SEAs) - the name given globally to environmental
assessments of major policy and programme proposals. SEAs have contributed
to the consideration of sustainable development in government policy,
among other positive impacts.
started being put on the EPD website in 2002. The first ones released
to the public concerned the Territorial Development Strategy Review,
the Second Railway Development Study, the Third Comprehensive Transport
Study and the Study on Sustainable Development for the 21st Century.
The Hong Kong public, and the rest of the world, can now read about
the possible implications of these major strategic reports. Other
administrations can also learn from our experience in the SEA process.
A new EIA law
came into force in Mainland China in September 2003 which includes
a legal provision for SEAs. The European Union has also issued a
directive, which will come into effect in July 2004, requiring government
planning and programmes to undergo SEAs, and many other countries
are exploring such a provision. Hong Kong is well placed to offer
assistance, especially to the Mainland, given our hands-on experience
in promoting and developing SEAs. We have produced guidelines and,
in 2003, a user's manual on SEAs, an interim version of which was
presented to the International Association of Environmental Assessment
at its annual meeting in June. The manual is targeted at government
officials, decision-makers and environmental professionals, and
offers technical advice and guidelines - including the need for
The Chief Executive
of the Hong Kong SAR Government pledged in his 2001 policy address
to enhance public access to information on the environmental performance
of major projects. Hong Kong's experience in SEAs and EIAs shows
that it is preferable to involve people in the early stages in the
process, to everyone's benefit. The earlier that conflicts between
the environment and development are aired, the greater room there
is to manoeuvre in making such decisions as whether to build roads
or a railway, or how to align a bridge. And an early resolution
helps to minimise emotional debates. By including all interested
parties in the process, it is possible to tap into their concerns
and knowledge and give them a stake in the outcome, so that development
proceeds in a considered, sustainable fashion.