Decision time as public backs third runway

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am


A decision on whether to go ahead with the most expensive infrastructure project in Hong Kong's history will be made by the current government before the city's next chief executive is chosen in March.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said there was overwhelming public support for building a HK$136.2 billion third runway at the airport on Lantau, with 73 per cent of nearly 24,000 respondents backing the idea in a government-commissioned survey. Nearly four-fifths of them called for a fast decision, and Cheng agreed.

'It could take 18 months or even 24 months for an environmental impact assessment ... meanwhile there are other important tasks like feasibility and funding studies. We now take this responsible step to push things forward, and the new government can decide when to start work,' Cheng said yesterday, hours after the Airport Authority recommended it go ahead with building a third runway.

Critics earlier said the decision should be made only after a thorough environmental impact assessment. But the authorities now say such a study would cost more than HK$100 million and take months to complete. They want to make a decision before the study is finished, which means during the term of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. That would mean the bulk of the work is passed to his successor.

Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying - the two front runners for the top job - both said they supported the construction of an extra runway. But they also voiced concern for its possible impact on noise and marine life and said mitigation measures had to be taken to minimise damage.

Whoever takes office next year could still pull the plug on the project by rejecting a request to fund it. The new Executive Council and Legislative Council could also withhold funding if they were dissatisfied with the environmental assessment or the runway's design.

Green groups such as the WWF said any decision made in the next month would not be based on sufficient grounds. 'The Australian government has brought in a carbon tax and Europe has ruled in favour of a scheme requiring airlines to buy carbon credits, so adjustments are needed as demand may no longer be the same,' said William Yu of WWF.

But Airport Authority chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung said the impact of new carbon emission rules on demand for flights in Hong Kong would be minimal because routes to and from Europe and Australia accounted for only a portion of the city's flights. And even if airlines passed on extra costs it would not make a big difference to fares, he said.

The authority says the third runway will bring HK$912 billion in economic benefits in the 50 years to 2061, and that it is essential to cope with growth in air passengers and cargo, which are expected to double from the present levels in the years to 2030.