Common sense required in school noise dispute
Among a growing list of pollution and environmental concerns awaiting the government's attention, such as air quality, roadside temperatures and eco-vandalism, noise pollution in the New Territories would seem to be one of the less pressing. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has decided to take the fight to an international school on Lantau regarding the noise of children playing during breaks. One would have thought that if there were serious concerns, they would have been taken into account by the Lands Department, Buildings Department and Education Bureau before they approved the school's expansion in 2007.
But since that expansion, some villagers have campaigned that the school is too noisy. Lobbying by villagers has resulted in an EPD order requiring the school to restrict noise levels to the permitted 60 decibels. Meanwhile, efforts to meet that order are apparently being frustrated by the District Lands Office requiring a 58 per cent rent increase before granting permission for a noise-reduction canopy.
Having allowed the school to expand, absorb more students and become an institution on which the growing Lantau professional class relies for English-medium schooling, the government has made an order that could jeopardise its future.
Officials have a responsibility to enforce the law. No doubt, if you happen to live right next to a school, the noise can be an annoyance. But there is also a need for common sense. If every school in Hong Kong were subjected to an EPD order restricting noise and threatened by a fine of HK$20,000 for every day the noise exceeded that limit, the city's future would be bleak. The expansion indicates a demand for an international primary school to cater to the changing demographic of Lantau island. If the relevant authorities are sincere in serving all Lantau residents, they need to break down bureaucratic barriers and find a development strategy that matches the needs of all sides. If the noise concerns were the real source of grievance, and the canopy the simple solution, it should not have taken years of wrangling and hundreds of thousands of dollars in appeal costs.