Public opinion turns against third runway, poll shows
Two out of three poll respondents first want better use of existing strips, a sharp change from the 73pc who backed expansion in 2011 survey
The planned HK$141.5 billion third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport is facing strong opposition, according to a survey commissioned this month by green groups that arrived at very different findings from a government study held four years ago.
Two-thirds of Hongkongers polled now want the Airport Authority to focus on improving the operations of its two runways before considering building a third, the latest survey shows.
Back in 2011, the authority found in its study that 73 per cent of residents supported having a third runway. A green campaigner said that survey took into account views collected from the logistics industry, which would favour a new airstrip.
Plans for the new runway are mired in criticism, not least because of its multibillion-dollar budget. But the authority's chief executive, Fred Lam Tin-fuk, defended the high cost, saying the project was more than just an additional runway.
"It's almost like building an airport. There will be a new concourse, railway system and luggage system," Lam said on television yesterday.
The Executive Council approved the project last week in an attempt to boost the city's competitiveness.
However, public opinion is in favour of the authority enhancing the existing twin-runway system before contemplating a third airstrip, based on the latest Baptist University poll, which surveyed 617 people from March 10 to 18. Researchers found 68 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with this stance, with 31 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with it.
They also found 57 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the government should wait for the outcome of a judicial review challenging the project's environmental impact assessment before progressing further. Asked if the government should become the authority's guarantor and allow the project to be financed in a way that bypassed Legislative Council oversight, 68 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
"Although the authority claimed in its earlier survey that more than 70 per cent backed the third runway, it is clear that the majority of the public oppose it today," Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, whose Dolphin Conservation Society was one of the groups authorising the latest survey, said.
Aviation experts have cast doubts on whether a three-runway system can handle 102 flights an hour, up from the current 68, as it depends on Shenzhen's willingness to cede some of its airspace to Hong Kong.
Lam was confident of securing Shenzhen's cooperation as optimising airspace in the Pearl River Delta region would benefit not just Hong Kong but mainland airports as well.
Project supporter Bernard Chan, an Exco member, said: "If the long-term development of our airport lags behind that of the surrounding area, I can say for sure that Hong Kong will be marginalised."
New People's Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun also backed the project, but was concerned that its financing plan would not require approval from Legco's Finance Committee.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Stuart Lau