Tourist buses leave fumes with a view

REPULSE Bay has long been one of Hongkong Island's major tourist sites, with a beach favoured by locals and overlooked by high-profile luxury homes. Some residents, however, are disturbed that its success is spoiling the air.

Every day dozens of tourist buses park along Beach Road. While the tourists go sight-seeing, the bus drivers sit in their vehicles with the engines running and air-conditioners blasting.

Fumes from the buses carry across to nearby homes and make walking on the street unpleasant. Through-traffic gets snarled up each day and people cannot use the pavements because buses park there.

Ms Ana Hedin, a Repulse Bay resident, brought the issue to public attention last June but nothing has yet been done to control the problem.

Environment, tourism and transport officials admitted at the time they were aware of the situation, but either refused to accept responsibility or said it sat near the bottom of their priority list.

The Environmental Protection Department still maintains it is a traffic management problem and that bigger issues have to be solved before turning to the nuisance caused by idling engines.

That left the Hongkong Tourist Association (HKTA) and the Transport Department to tackle the traffic jam - but not the pollution.

Ms Hedin, whose home overlooks Beach Road, is tired of the buck-passing that has led to inaction on the problem.

''It hasn't improved at all. Everybody is so sick and tired of being locked behind these buses. They are not able to walk their children in a pram because of the fumes. We are not a bus station. People moved here to get away from the hustle and bustle oftown.'' The Transport Department last week said it had worked out a solution - remove some of the coach parking spaces to improve traffic flow and add a footpath for passengers to use when getting on and off the bus. Work should be completed by the June swimmingseason.

But that alone is unlikely to satisfy residents, who see the air pollution as most annoying - and potentially harmful - aspect to the situation.

An HKTA's spokeswoman, Mrs Penny Byrne, said there were no easy solutions: ''The island tour is by far and away the most important for the tourism industry - which is the third largest earner of foreign exchange. It's what people want to see.

''But it's a difficult situation because the roads were designed when such usage was not envisaged. It's a matter of bringing everybody together and working out some sort of compromise.'' Unfortunately, the residents were not part of that compromise. So, while work continues to control such problems as cleaning up Victoria Harbour or building new roads, the lower-profile ones get passed over for the sake of business as usual.

STUDENT architects will be the target of an environmental awareness drive next month intended to show that they can make a positive impact through their work.

Hongkong's architecture has often come under fire for being indifferent to its surroundings or not paying enough attention to environmental issues such as energy efficiency.

Professor Tunney Lee, who heads the department of architecture at Chinese University, however, said the awareness week, set for March 8 to 13, was not about pointing the finger at others.

''It's a wake-up call for us. We're trying to concentrate the department, and eventually the profession, on the idea that we've got to do something. And what better place to start than through the curriculum of the students,'' he said.

If you have an environmental project of interest, or wish to call attention to an environmental problem in your neighbourhood, please fax the information to Ecowatch, 811-1278, or mail it care of the South China Morning Post.