Reform of impact studies debated

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am


Supporters and critics of the government's environmental impact study system locked horns at a Legco panel meeting yesterday, but the government bureau in charge of the process refused to join the fray.

The row came out of a court ruling that quashed the environment permit for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in April.

Dr Kitty Poon Kit, undersecretary for the environment, said key issues would only be addressed after the government's appeal. 'The existing process is sound and effective. But we will cautiously consider different views,' she said.

Those favouring a major review suggested an independent body replace the Environmental Protection Department to examine assessment reports, avoiding potential conflicts of interest by the department in its roles as regulator and advocate of a public works project.

Mike Kilburn, from Civic Exchange, warned that the risk of policy goals trumping professional judgment in the assessment process had risen since government administrative officers took over the department's leadership in 2005. 'The director no longer has [his or her] own professional judgment because she is not an environmental scientist,' he said.

But those with reservations about a review warned that a balance had to be struck so that the process was not a needless obstacle to economic development and job creation.

Dennis Lee, from the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, said any changes to environmental impact assessment rules should not delay planned multibillion-dollar infrastructure, a lifeline for 270,000-plus workers.

Dr Anne Kerr, a council member of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Hong Kong, was also worried that assessment studies could be longer and more costly as a result of the bridge court case. But she said the association would be ready to work with the government on changes to the law.