Construction firms fear that Hong Kong's new air quality targets will kill projects

Contractors and consultants say new air quality objectives may mean projects cannot go ahead in Mong Kok, Central and Causeway Bay

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 7:13am

Some big contractors and consultancies fear new air quality objectives could mean no new projects can be built in some areas of the city.

"The industry is very concerned about the impact of the new air quality objectives. We need to think about solutions to avoid possible conflicts," Gammon Construction chief executive Thomas Ho On-sing said.

Ho, also chairman of the Construction Association, called for more discussion about how to meet the new standards.

The concerns are included in a report commissioned by the association.

The association will submit recommendations to the Environment Bureau for it to consider in its review of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system.

New air quality objectives came into force on January 1.

Under the EIA system in place since 1998, projects had to meet certain criteria or they would be refused a permit.

The study involved interviews with six companies and five professional bodies about their opinions of the EIA system.

Some said areas including Mong Kok, Central, Causeway Bay and Tung Chung might not be able to accommodate new projects under the stricter new standards.

While the report called for a review of the feasibility of having new projects in these areas, Raymond Ho Chung-tai, chairman of the Association of Engineering Professionals in Society, which did the research, said they were not asking for exemptions.

"We just want the government to come up with clear requirements of what should be done," he said. "If it believes it is worth introducing measures, we will go along with it."

The report concludes there is no need to revamp the framework and operation of the system. But it calls for a central database of ecological data and a better exchange of information with the mainland on projects that could mutually affect each other.

As to whether the Council on the Environment should be beefed up, the survey found there was no consensus in society.

While some local activists opposing development in the northeastern New Territories want to have the EIA report in Chinese, and extend the one-month public consultation, Raymond Ho said it was unnecessary as it would be costly and impractical to have a Chinese report.

A department spokesman said it had received a copy of the report.

But he would not comment on fears some areas would not be able to accommodate new projects because of their poor air quality. The spokesman would only say the government was committed to combating air pollution and reach targets set for 2020.

"Project proponents can help by incorporating measures to reduce air pollution, making their project viable," he said.

He also said any proposal to change the EIA mechanism should be studied carefully, taking into account past experience, public views and court judgments. On setting up a central ecology database, he said project-based, individual ecological assessment could not be replaced by a database.