Environment Bureau Environmental Protection Department ENVIRONMENT HONG KONG 2008
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5 Environmental Assessment and Planning

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To pre-empt environmental problems associated with development projects, plans and strategies, by assessing their environmental implications and ensuring that measures are implemented to avoid any potential problems that are identified.


Highlights in 2007
  • The EPD assisted the Planning Department in completing the strategic environmental assessment of the Hong Kong 2030 Planning Vision and Strategy study.
  • The 3-D EIA public engagement tool was used for the first time in the public exhibition of an EIA (for the North East New Territories Landfill Extension). By the end of the year it had been required in 22 major development projects.
  • The web-based Strategic Environmental Assessment Knowledge Centre was enhanced with additional hyperlinks to SEA resources for Mainland China and overseas, and received about 650 000 hits.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then environmental assessment and planning is that ounce of prevention. It is used to identify and minimise adverse environmental impacts before irreversible decisions or actions are taken. In Hong Kong, the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO) requires major developments to go through the EIA process. The ordinance, which came into effect in 1998, enables the early identification of environmental issues from individual projects and facilitates public involvement in the process. Similarly, the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) process addresses the environmental acceptability of policies, programmes and plans and involves a high degree of public consultation. The usefulness of the SEA process was recognised in 2005 when the Chief Executive announced all major Government policy proposals would be subject to environmental protection scrutiny. Examples of our SEA and EIA efforts are described below and demonstrate how early prevention of environmental problems can help us to develop a better quality environment for Hong Kong.

SEA and EIA will help protect the natural environment of Hong Kong.

SEA and EIA will help protect the natural environment of Hong Kong.

SEA case study: Hong Kong 2030

Hong Kong is a crowded, bustling city with a constant demand for new land and development. Inevitably, environmental issues arise from this demand. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) promotes the strategic environmental assessment process to identify major environmental issues and constraints at the earliest planning stage of policies and strategic developments, and to make broad recommendations for preventing or minimising impacts. An example of the tool's usefulness is the Planning Department's Hong Kong 2030 Planning Vision and Strategy study (HK2030), which was completed in 2007.

Hong Kong 2030 Planning Vision and Strategy Final Report

The SEA process is interactive.

The SEA process is interactive.

HK2030 is a strategic land-use planning framework that aims to provide a quality living environment, enhance economic competitiveness and strengthen ties with the Mainland over the next 30 years. High priority has been attached to environmental considerations. With that in mind, the Planning Department agreed to conduct an SEA in parallel with the main study, with support and advice from the EPD, to assess the options before any decisions were reached.

Rail services in Hong Kong.

Rail services in Hong Kong.
The study underwent SEA scrutiny from the start and involved two rounds of public consultations. The final Preferred Development Option incorporates both public concerns and environmental considerations, and will improve the environment on a strategic level. For example, one of the concepts behind HK2030 is to provide jobs closer to where people live, thus cutting down on commuting. More railways would be built and other environmentally friendly transport options would be adopted. Together, these developments would reduce energy consumption and air pollution emissions, as well as road noise.

In localised areas, such as the future container terminal and airport developments, the outlook may not be as positive. Cumulative environmental impacts could create problems. The SEA process has flagged environmental concerns, identified mitigation measures and recommended further detailed environmental studies to determine the acceptability of some development proposals.

There are bound to be environmental issues in major developments. The SEA process – like this one for HK2030 – can help to establish the issues at the outset so the worst impacts can be avoided and mitigation measures can be incorporated into the planning and design.

EIA case study: Kau Sai Chau golf course

SEAs consider the big picture. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs), on the other hand, look at the nuts and bolts of individual projects and how to minimise their impacts. Public input is also important in this process to ensure proponents take on board people's concerns.

An example of a successful EIA is the new third golf course at Kau Sai Chau. The project proponent for this 18-hole course held seven meetings with the Sai Kung District Council and non-government groups, which were concerned in particular with the impact on water quality in the relatively pristine waters of Port Shelter. However, the EIA indicated that all negative impacts would be controlled.

Kau Sai Chau golf course.

Kau Sai Chau golf course.

The low flow, closed drainage system.

Click here to enlarge  
The low flow, closed drainage system.  

The project proponent incorporated a number of measures to contain and minimise environmental impacts, based around a low-flow, closed drainage system that enables self-containment and effluent recycling. The system allows for run-off to be collected from the greens, tees and fairways, conveyed to underground storage tanks or open storage ponds, and from there pumped to an irrigation buffer reservoir for re-use on the golf course. The system is being used for all but Hole 5 and part of Hole 6, which drains into an existing marsh after filtering. A trial of biopesticides is being conducted at these holes. Furthermore, a more drought tolerant and disease resistant turf is being used throughout the golf course to reduce the need for pesticides.

Kau Sai Chau's third golf course has been designed to have virtually no water quality impacts along the island's east coast corals, mangroves and fish culture zone. It is an excellent example of how the EIA process helps to alert proponents to environmental issues so they can take action to reduce their impacts.

Responding to public concerns

Public participation has provided important input to the SEA and EIA examples above, and helped to keep the pressure on project proponents to address environmental concerns. It can even have an impact after an EIA is completed. A case in point is the Yiu Lian Floating Dock, which was moved to a new location off Tsing Yi Island in 2007 due to the rezoning of northeast Lantau Island for tourism and recreation.

Floating docks play an important role in supporting port activities, so there was no question of the need to retain the dock. An EIA was prepared, which indicated the relocation to Tsing Yi would be acceptable provided the dock properly treated its waste water and did not serve vessels with toxic TBT-based anti-fouling paint. These conditions were readily met. However, during the 30-day public inspection of the EIA, fishermen and green groups raised concerns that the dredging and backfilling work would affect water quality in the fish culture zones at Ma Wan and disturb the Chinese White Dolphins in the area.

Locations of the Yiu Lian Floating Dock before and after relocation.

  Locations of the Yiu Lian Floating Dock before and after relocation.

Although the EIA report was approved, Yiu Lian was asked to explore alternatives to address public concerns. The result was a winning situation all around. Yiu Lian offered to leave the anchors of the existing dock in place so no dredging would be required – they simply cut the chains and moved to the Tsing Yi site. Also, when anchoring off Tsing Yi, they used specially designed self-penetrating anchors to avoid dredging and backfilling there, too. As a result, the environmental impacts from dredging and backfilling have not only been minimised, they have been completely avoided.

The Yiu Lian Floating Dock operating at Tsing Yi.

The Yiu Lian Floating Dock operating at Tsing Yi.

This case indicates that environmental assessments, be they strategic or project-based, are an essential tool to prevent or minimise impacts from new developments. With the public's support, these assessments can help Hong Kong to strike a balance between supporting a dynamic economy and protecting human health and the city's beautiful natural environment.

Looking Ahead
Looking Ahead
  • A library of 3-D EIA visuals will be established as a reference centre for the public and EIA practitioners.
  • The web-based Strategic Environmental Assessment Knowledge Centre will continue to be improved with additional links to SEA resources in Mainland China and overseas.

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