Greens urge tougher project scrutiny

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am


Five green groups have jointly called on the government to revamp the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system, which they say is full of loopholes and fails to protect the environment.

The groups yesterday called for an immediate review of the mechanism: Green Sense, the Conservancy Association, Greeners' Action, Clean Air Network and Clear the Air voiced their complaints about the system. None of them were totally against infrastructure development, but they believed there should be better safeguards for the environment, too.

They made their statement as 50 construction workers marched yesterday afternoon in Central, expressing their fears that infrastructure projects were being put on hold due to green concerns. The government is appealing against a landmark High Court ruling that quashed the environmental permit for the building of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the ruling had affected 70 other infrastructure projects.

The green groups said public consultation periods should be lengthened, and outdated environmental benchmarks - such as the 24-year-old air quality objectives - should be revamped in the EIA process.

They also highlighted what they called a fundamental flaw in the EIA process - it has no say as to whether a project is actually necessary. They questioned the independence of the environmental authority as well as the private consultancy firms hired by project proponents.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of Green Sense, said: 'The system has too many flaws and it serves as nothing more than a rubber stamp to approve projects.' Only two of over 400 projects had been rejected since the EIA system was introduced in 1998, he said, calling for public hearings into revamping the system.

Roy Ng Hei-man of the Conservancy Association said the public should be more directly involved in the early stages of environmental impact studies.

The Clean Air Network said the government should introduce updated air quality objectives immediately. 'We do not believe the average Hong Kong person is willing to continue trading his health for more economic growth,' said community relations officer Erica Chan Fong-ying. Edwin Town, vice-chairman of Clear the Air, said feasibility studies of building projects should be disclosed for public comments before the EIA process was completed.