Missing figures in runway equation
The government will be told by December whether a third runway is needed for Hong Kong International Airport's future development, the Airport Authority said yesterday at the end of a three-month public consultation.
However, it is likely the recommendation will be made without knowledge of what the HK$136.2 billion project's real economic and social costs might be.
Stanley Hui Hon-chung, the authority's chief executive, said the authority had received 29,000 opinions on the controversial project from stakeholders, political parties and green groups by Thursday afternoon.
The opinions - together with media commentaries and individual presentations - will be collated and analysed by the University of Hong Kong. The outcome will be studied by the authority's board of directors, which will submit a recommendation to the government.
However, Hui did not commit to conducting an analysis of the project's social and environmental costs. This is in contrast to Britain, where the government found the social costs of a third runway at Heathrow Airport would slash the project's estimated benefits by up to 70 per cent.
'Hong Kong's legal system requires us to conduct an environmental impact assessment, and this we will certainly comply with,' Hui said. 'As for other opinions, we will listen and consider.'
The city's environmental law requires each infrastructure project to meet a certain benchmark on air quality, but it does not require a price tag to be placed on the project's implications for public health and the environment.
The authority said a third runway would bring HK$912 billion of economic benefits to Hong Kong in the 50 years to 2061. But Fiona Waters, principal economist of PricewaterhouseCoopers, told a symposium organised by the Aerospace Forum Asia yesterday that in order to calculate a project's economic benefits, one must also know its economic costs.
'The cost-and-benefit approach is a common economic technique and in the UK there is a green book outlining the methodology.'
In 2009, the Department of Transport in Britain said that while a third runway at Heathrow could bring GBP19.2 billion (HK$242 billion) in economic benefits, it will also cost society GBP13.6 billion in construction, carbon emissions, noise and damages to air quality - leaving only GBP5.5 billion worth of benefits for a project that cost GBP7.8 billion. The UK government eventually gave up building a third runway for Heathrow.
The calculation on noise impact, for example, takes into account the number of households within a range of 50 decibels and impact on house prices.
However, Hui questioned whether Britain's approach could be directly applied to Hong Kong, which has a different economic environment. William Yu Yuen-ping, head of WWF Hong Kong - a conservation body which collected 7,500 petitions calling for the release of the runway's social costs - said the methodology of calculating the social return on investment was not complicated and had been applied to more than 500 projects.
John Slosar, chief executive of Cathay Pacific, told yesterday's forum that Hong Kong could not afford to remain static. Every other airport in the region was racing ahead to catch a share of the expected future air traffic boom in Asia.