World-class consultant lowers the bar for its cowardly client

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 April, 2009, 12:00am

One of the world's leading engineering and consulting firms, Ove Arup, has a reputation as a company that offers 'outstanding solutions'.

However, its study on the air quality objectives for Hong Kong does not offer such solutions. Unfortunately, it seems to be constrained in providing the results of what one would expect from a world-class company, because of the government's fear of doing what is right for our society just to keep a small number of constituents happy. Instead, its suggestions mean that we will continue to subsidise the operations of our city's polluters, namely the transport industry, at the cost of our health.

Arup claims that its and the government's major objective is 'public health', yet at the recent public consultation on air pollution it did not proudly announce the expected quantified savings and benefits from its proposals. Instead, when it came to the air quality objectives, it said that the benefits were hard to calculate. Maybe Arup should look at one of the most advanced air pollution indexes in the world, right here, the Hedley Index.

Why does the government like to use scare tactics when giving the public an option for cleaner air, claiming that making environmental improvements will bring increased costs? This is both myopic and unfair to our society. In every case in the US where air quality objectives have been tightened, the benefits have outweighed the costs.

Diesel exhaust is our major health threat, given to us in strong daily doses by our fleet of more than 70,000 old trucks and buses. It is carcinogenic, stunts brain development in our young people and prematurely ends the lives of their parents. Interestingly, a group of citizens in Tokyo recently won a US$12 million out-of-court settlement from car companies and their government due to the asthma cases caused by diesel. By ignoring these issues our government could face similar disputes.

Given the public sentiment expressed at the curiously short one-hour public 'dialogue' last month, Arup should live up to its reputation as an expert in its field even if its client, the Hong Kong government, is afraid to do what is right.

Douglas Woodring, Mid-Levels