We need to ask ourselves if a third runway is really needed at airport

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2011, 12:00am


We now have proposals to build a third runway at Chek Lap Kok. Predictably, and understandably, these have been made and supported by those who stand to benefit (the Airport Authority, the airlines and the construction industry).

And, as always, the projections have been made on a 'business-as-usual' model which simply extrapolates the present position.

These are valid, albeit narrow, views and the approach is one which readily presents itself, but they may not bring the right outcome for Hong Kong.

We have seen many such proposals in Hong Kong which have been based on an incomplete appreciation of what the future might and should hold. The Lok Ma Chau spur line was an immensely costly construction project intended to relieve congestion at Lo Wu. Before it was completed, electric card readers at Lo Wu had achieved this at a fraction of the price.

On the mega-project scale, which the third runway indeed is, we have the example of the container port.

The recent Port 2020 study similarly extrapolated existing figures and arrived at the need for a new port, CT 10 [container terminal 10]. This might have obliged a 245-hectare reclamation off Tai O.

It reached the chief executive's policy address. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed, as it has long been clear that our fine port is close to a sunset industry, having been supplanted by new ports in the major market - the mainland. And so to the airport expansion. Will increased aircraft movements be acceptable in a world which is struggling to reduce its carbon footprint?

What about air quality and health for our own residents? Will the new high-speed railways (and our own express rail link) reduce the demand for flights to the mainland?

Will short-haul aircraft become larger, enabling absolute numbers of planes to be reduced? What will happen to our iconic dolphins? What are the issues and trends, and where should Hong Kong position itself in the Pearl River Delta?

The size, cost and environmental implications of a third runway require us all to think outside the box. By all means hear the views of vested interests, but let us get this right. We have enough recent experience of inadequately planned infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, and we cannot afford another one - not on this scale.

Clive Noffke, Green Lantau Association