Hong Kong's third runway proposal

Hong Kong activists fail in legal bid to challenge decision on third airport runway construction

Judge rejects their accusations that environmental watchdog did not take into consideration airspace issues, habitat destruction

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 9:11pm

The High Court has declined a bid by a Lantau resident and a conservationist to challenge the decision allowing the construction of a third airport runway, rejecting accusations that the environmental watchdog had ignored airspace issues and habitat destruction.

Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming stated in a judgment on Thursday that the grounds of the applicants’ judicial review were not well-founded or valid.

The Airport Authority, a party to the case, said it welcomed the ruling and would reduce the environmental impact of the project.

In March 2012, the government decided to proceed with plans to expand the Hong Kong International Airport by building a third runway. The director of environmental protection in November 2014 approved an environmental impact assessment report and granted a permit for the controversial project, which is expected to cost HK$141.5 billion.

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But Lantau resident Ho Loy and conservationist Yu Hin-pik applied for a judicial review over the department’s decision, questioning whether it had taken into account the runway’s full impact.

In his judgment, Chow wrote that, when deciding on an environmental permit, it was not for the environmental watchdog to vet the wisdom of the authority’s proposal to expand the airport.

“[Its] function is to consider the assessment and acceptability of the environmental impact which may be caused by the project,” the judge stated.

I am unable to see in what respect it may be said that there are omissions or deficiencies
Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming

Ho also questioned the assessment of noise and air impact due to the use of airspace in the Pearl River Delta area in relation to the projected air traffic movements in or out of Hong Kong.

But the judge said it was clear the airspace issue was not relevant to the project’s noise impact assessment or the protection of the environment – which were the watchdog’s areas of concern when deciding on the permit.

Ho claimed she had not meant to challenge the decision to build the runway and that the present review related to the environmental impact assessment exercise.

She argued the watchdog’s report failed to account for the actual ecological impact on Chinese white dolphins and failed to give compensation for the progressive permanent destruction of habitat during construction.

But Chow found it “incorrect” to suggest the watchdog had failed to consider compensation, adding that findings in the department’s report concerning the habitat loss should be read in their proper contexts.

“I am unable to see in what respect it may be said that there are omissions or deficiencies in the [report] which may affect the results and conclusions of the assessment,’’ he wrote.

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The court’s primary concern was with the procedure to be followed in the environmental impact assessment process, not the merits, unless it was found to be unreasonable, the judge added.

Chow said compliance with the express obligations imposed by the Environmental Impact Ordinance should be regarded as a sufficient discharge of the watchdog’s duties in relation to the environmental impact assessment process.

“[The] court should not readily impose additional obligations on the director over and above what is expressly required by the ordinance,” he continued.

He asserted that the viability and sustainability of the project was related to the authority’s wisdom in pursuing it. This made it a matter of public policy and not a matter for determination in the present judicial review, he added.

Ho and Yu were ordered on Thursday to foot the legal bills of the director of environmental protection and the authority. Ho said she was still studying the judgment and would publicise her next step.