New focus needed on big issues facing third Hong Kong airport, alliance urges
Lawmakers and green groups say agenda for group monitoring the project must change so that financing and airspace problems are discussed first
An alliance of green groups and lawmakers wants the agenda of a Legislative Council subcommittee set up to monitor the third airport runway project to be rearranged so high-priority issues such as financing and airspace are tackled first.
“We feel this subcommittee can still check and challenge the project in a serious way,” said subcommittee member Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, a New Territories West lawmaker. “But they must change the agenda immediately.”
Chairman Wong Ting-kwong said there was no point in changing the order of meetings if the relevant authorities were not able to oblige lawmakers’ demands.
“I understand some colleagues may feel that the issues are important and want to discuss them first,” Wong said. “But it will depend on whether the authorities will be able to provide us additional information or data. If they are not ready, there is no use for us in holding meetings earlier.”
According to the current scheduling by the Transport and Housing Bureau, the first of five meetings over the legislative term will be on environmental issues. Financing will not be discussed until the fourth meeting in June.
That would affect the ability of the subcommittee to scrutinise the Airport Authority’s financing plan when it is released at the end of the year, Chu said. The plan will involve bonds and loans on top of passenger surcharges, which are already in effect.
“We worry the government will deliberately interfere and disallow us the opportunity to have meaningful debate over financing,” he added. “There are still many unanswered questions. Is the project still financially feasible? If there are cost overruns, will the burden be passed on to us? What about loan repayments?”
The HK$141.5 billion project has drawn controversy for years, not least because of the unresolved issue of how a crowded regional airspace shared by other mainland airports would accommodate the increased capacity. The project also means the Chinese white dolphin will lose 650 hectares of habitat.
While not dismissing environmental issues as a lost cause – the government has already approved an environmental permit – opponents say the fight against the project must be moved to areas where there is a strong case to hear.
“We can still monitor the environmental issues through other avenues,” said Roy Ng Hei-man of the Conservancy Association said. “Issues of financing and airspace should be the priority. We should not waste the opportunity to discuss it at Legco.”
Surveying sector lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim said major transfer of interest issues arose from the government’s decision to allow the authority to develop the North Commercial District on the airport island.
Samuel Hung Ka-yiu of the Dolphin Conservation Society stressed that a judicial review against the granting of the environmental permit was awaiting a court decision – if won, the entire project would be halted.
The authority has begun preliminary construction work and started collecting an airport construction fee from passengers in August.
“They’ve already cheated and started work before the verdict and they don’t have a plan B if the JR is successful,” Hung said.