PLC Paper No. CB(1)225
(These minutes have been
Ref: CB1/PL/EA/1 seen by the Administration
and cleared with the Chairman)

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 10 April 1997, at 8:30 a.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai (Chairman)
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon MOK Ying-fan

Members absent :

    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP

Public officers attending :

All items
Mr Benjamin TANG
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Item IV
Mr Stanley W H WONG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Planning)
Mr Elvis W K AU
Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Territory Assessment)

Item V
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)
Mr Benny WONG
Assistant Director of Environmental Protection
(Waste Facilities)
Mr CHENG Kit-man
Senior Physicist
Department of Health

Item VI
Mr MAK Kwing-yu
Assistant Director/Supply & Distribution (1) Atg
Water Supplies Department
Mr CHEUNG Tze-leung
Chief Waterworks Chemist

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting

(LegCo Paper No CB(1)1153/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 25 February 1997 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

(List of outstanding items for discussion (1996-97) tabled)

Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting of the Panel scheduled for 6 May 1997 -

  1. Waste reduction; and
  2. Technical Memorandum on Environmental Impact Assessment.

Members noted the following meeting arrangements -

  1. A special Panel meeting had been scheduled for 29 April 1997 at 8:30 am to discuss the Review on Trade Effluent Surcharge; and
  2. A joint meeting with the Panel on Health Services had been scheduled for 27 May 1997 at 10:30 am to discuss the Centralised Incineration Facility.

III Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1) 1069, 1099,1113 and 1123/96-97)

Members noted the following information papers issued since the last Panel meeting held on 4 March 1997 -

  1. Information paper from the Administration entitled "Prevention of Illegal Discharge of MARPOL Waste";
  2. Information paper from the Administration on alternatives to contained marine disposal of contaminated mud at East Sha Chau;
  3. A letter from Kwai Tsing District Board expressing objection to the proposal to dispose of clinical wastes at the existing Chemical Waste Treatment Centre in Tsing Yi; and
  4. A memo from the Director of Civil Engineering providing information on how the cost of East Sha Chau disposal compared with the cost of landfill disposal.

IV Erection of overhead power lines

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1204/96-97(01))

The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Planning) (PAS/PEL(P)) briefed members on the Administration’s information paper on this subject and updated members on the steps taken by the Administration to review and improve the current procedures relating to the provision of electricity network schemes in the light of the Black Point case, where the routing of the 400kV Power Transmission System had aroused strong objection from the affected residents. Members noted that upon completion of the review exercise, some legislative amendments and administrative procedures would be identified to address the concerns observed from the Black Point case.

Consultation process

As regards the consultation process with respect to the approval of overhead power line schemes, PAS/PEL(P) reported that the initial finding of the review was that the monitoring role of Government in the process should be strengthened to ensure that all parties to be affected by the project would have access to complete and correct project information. The review had also identified the need to improve both the extent and the depth of consultation so that the public as well as the affected residents could be alerted to a proposed scheme as soon as practicable. It was believed that if objections could be considered earlier, environmental concerns regarding any selected sites could be timely identified.

While finding the proposed improvements to the consultation process agreeable and necessary, members also opined that it was more important that affected parties would have sufficient rights and powers to object to any unfavourable schemes and be adequately compensated should such efforts fail. The Chairman further proposed that the Panel should be consulted on future electricity network schemes. In response, PAS/PEL(P) reported that the Administration had already examined the mechanism in regard to the settlement of objections and compensations under the Electricity Networks (Statutory Easements) Ordinance (Cap. 357). The preliminary observation was that the provisions in Cap. 357 might be inadequate, and there could be a better mechanism to allow public views to be expressed and considered before an overhead power line scheme was authorised by the Governor in Council. The mechanism could also specify the area of land or lots which were affected by and qualified for compensation under a proposed scheme. One of the improvements contemplated was to require gazettal of such schemes giving directions on where to obtain further information as in the case of road construction. Members were assured that the Administration recognised the need to properly address public concerns. In the Black Point case for example, although construction of the power transmission system had already started, the Administration had also adjusted the construction process to accommodate residents’ demands as far as practicable.

Members opined that with the Territorial Development Strategy providing a broad, long-term landuse-transport-environmental planning framework, the Administration should be able to supply information on planned power line alignment or maintenance over the following ten years to the public to help them make better-informed home purchase decisions. In response, PAS/PEL(P) agreed to consult the Economic Services Branch to see if such information could be made available.

(Post-meeting note: The above information was circulated to Panel members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1493/96-97(02)).

Planning standards and guidelines

Members were keen to ensure that the planning standards and guidelines with respect to the approval of overhead power line schemes would be revised in accordance with the precautionary principle following international developments. A member even pointed out that Hong Kong should adopt more stringent standards because of its mountainous topography and dense population. In response, PAS/PEL(P) stated that the existing standards had already been adjusted according to local conditions. The Working Group on Electromagnetic Field (EMF) also comprised of three representatives from local tertiary institutions. At present, the planning standards adopted by Hong Kong were based on the International Radiation Protection Association Guidelines and the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. In recognition of the need to guard against the health impact of EMF, the Administration was already closely monitoring developments on the EMF issue in the international arena and would review the existing safety clearances as necessary according to the precautionary principle. It was also studying the new concern of visual impact and would try to develop some clear planning guidelines in this aspect.

The Principal Environmental Protection Officer (PEPO) briefed members on the implications of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Ordinance on the erection of high voltage overhead power lines. Members noted that under the Ordinance, 400kV transmission lines would be subject to the EIA process which could provide for a proper control of such type of project by enhancing the transparency of the process and providing for proper public consultation at an early stage of project planning. It was believed that the Ordinance should help to avoid such incidents as the Black Point case in future. In reply to members’ questions, PEPO supplemented that according to the Technical Memorandum of the Ordinance, the Environmental Protection Department would consult the Electrical and Mechanical Department and the Department of Health on the most up-to-date international or local planning standards when conducting EIAs in accordance with the precautionary principle.

V Treatment of radioactive wastes

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1204/96-97(02))

The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Waste Facilities) (ADEP) briefed members on the Administration’s information paper, which reported on the latest progress of the construction of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Facility (LRWSF) on Siu A Chau to replace the Queen’s Road East (QRE) disused air-raid tunnels for storing existing low-level radioactive waste as well as future waste arising. Members noted that the project had not proceeded as quickly as planned because of unexpected complications in the tender assessment process and statutory objections from the public.

In response to members’ questions on the project’s delay, ADEP explained that three objections were received when the project was gazetted under the Foreshore and Sea-bed (Reclamations) Ordinance. The objections included one from a villager of Siu A Chau and two from green groups. This had been the major cause of delay. The objections were mainly against the selection of the Siu A Chau site on the ground of archaeological value of Siu A Chau, the project’s compatibility with the overall planning of the area, and concern over the possible resultant restrictions on developments. The Administration had already taken various measures to address the concerns. The objections were later over-ruled by the Executive Council.

Members were concerned about the safety of prolonged storage of low-level radioactive waste in the QRE disused air-raid tunnels resulting from the delay of the project. In response, the Senior Physicist of the Department of Health (SP) assured members that it was only out of good environmental practice that Hong Kong was constructing a proper facility to store radioactive waste, not because of any imminent problem in continued storage of such waste in the tunnels. In fact, the tunnels would not pose any health hazard to residents in the vicinity. On-site and off-site environmental radiation level in the vicinity was under continuous surveillance and so far no measurable increase in the natural ambient radiation level outside the tunnels had been detected. As a further safeguard and to prepare for the future removal of the waste to the Siu A Chau facility, waste materials were to be repackaged and sealed in new double layer stainless steel containers. The first phase of the project, comprising work to repackage the waste that were produced before 1980, was completed in 1995. The containers were corrosion-resistant and regular examination would ensure that there would not be any possible leakage of the materials.

In reply to members’ other questions on radioactive waste, SP supplemented the following information -

  1. Hong Kong would generate only low-level radioactive waste. Upon completion of the LRWSF, all the existing waste would be removed to the LRWSF on Siu A Chau. As the quantity of new waste arising would be small, future transfer of new waste would not exceed twice a year. As for ionising smoke detectors, the conditions of licence held the dealers responsible for the disposal of waste radioactive parts.
  2. The small amount of low-level radioactive waste in Hong Kong was mainly generated by industry, medical and educational institutions. Such waste comprised essentially smoke detector parts, rayon mantles for kerosene lanterns, luminous watch dials and hands, lightning protection conductor heads, and weakened radiation sources from hospitals and educational institutions.

VI Fresh water quality

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1216/96-97)

The Assistant Director/Supply & Distribution (AD/S&D) briefed members on the information papers prepared by the Water Supplies Department (WSD). He assured members that Hong Kong was enjoying one of the safest water supplies in the world. Water quality problems mainly arose from the inside service, which were under the maintenance of the consumers and their landlords. For example, one of the major causes of chronic water quality problems was the ageing and deterioration of inside service, especially the corrosion of unlined galvanised steel (G.I.) pipes commonly found in older residential buildings. With the introduction of the new legislation on the abandonment of the unlined G.I. pipes, it was expected that in the course of time the water quality problems in some housing estates would be resolved.

Members expressed concern about the quality of raw water from Dongjiang, which might be deteriorating with the urbanisation and industrial and agricultural developments along its banks. In response, AD/S&D and the Chief Waterworks Chemist (CWC) made the following assurances -

  1. The water supplied from Dongjiang had been monitored for quality since the inception of the China water scheme in the early sixties. The raw water was sampled for testing at the reception points at the Muk Wu Pumping Stations near the border and thereafter further monitoring was carried out at the works to which the water was delivered for treatment. All test results had indicated that there was no quality trend change of any proportion that warranted material concern. Although over the years there had been some increases in the values of certain parameters, such as turbidity and chlorides, heavy metals and pesticides showed no significant change over the past 10 years. In fact, some of these values were at or very near the lower detection limits of laboratory testing equipment.
  2. What mattered most was the final treated water that came out from consumers’ taps. The water treatment techniques which Hong Kong employed in its treatment works were fully able to treat water to a quality complying with WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (1993). Moreover, with a 130-strong establishment, of which 23 staff members were chemists, WSD’s Water Science Division was fully able to ensure the quality of water from the source to the consumers’ taps. In fact, water samples were tested every one or two hours during treatment in Hong Kong. In 1996, over 130,000 water samples were taken for testing and the results were used for effective monitoring of raw water quality, and control of water treatment processes and water quality at various parts of the water supply system. These included 22,242 treated water samples taken from treatment works, service reservoirs and consumers’ taps for bacteriological and chemical examinations. All were found to conform bacteriologically and chemically to the WHO Guidelines. At present most large water treatment works had their own laboratories and chemists. Furthermore, the Mainland East laboratory at Shatin Treatment Works had obtained accredited status with the Hong Kong Laboratory Accreditation Scheme, which is widely recognized internationally.
  3. The Chinese side was also concerned about the water quality of Dongjiang. The relevant authorities in Guangdong had enacted legislations to control domestic, agricultural and industrial developments within the Dongjiang catchments. They had also stepped up public education, monitoring and enforcement activities to contain pollution at the Dongjiang basin. The wide range of measures taken included the construction of sewage treatment facilities, the erection of iron fencing along the river banks to prevent trespasses into the rivers, and increasing the fish population to control algae at Shenzhen Reservoir from which water was delivered to Hong Kong. With such efforts, the quality of raw water from Dongjiang had indeed stabilised. There was therefore no cause for alarm. Moreover, the water supply agreement with China contained provisions for acceptable water quality standard. A working group had also been set up between the Hong Kong and the Guangdong authorities to monitor the quality of Dongjiang water. The Hong Kong side would be immediately alerted of any serious contamination such as the recent Sijiang case and Hong Kong could easily revert to local supply until the problem had been resolved.

Mr IP Kwok-him supplemented that the area along Dongjiang had already been designated water control zones by the Chinese side. He was informed by CWC that the WHO 1993 Guidelines were the most up-to-date international standards.

In reply to members’ other questions on water supply, AD/S&D and CWC supplied the following information -

  1. China was the cheapest and closest source of water supply to Hong Kong. The Administration could not have found any other viable or cheaper source of water supply.

  1. The intensive replumbing programme for public housing estates was part of the Housing Department’s overall estate improvement plan. As requested by members, WSD would relay to the Housing Department members’ concern about water quality in public housing estates.

VII Fourth Review on the 1989 White Paper on the Environment

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1204/96-97(03))

The Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (DS/PEL) briefed members on the proposal for the Fourth Review on the 1989 White Paper on the Environment. The approach to the Fourth Review, as set out in the draft outline attached to the Administration’s paper, envisaged building on the messages in the Third Review with particular emphasis on planning against pollution. Developing sustainable development programmes would continue to be the main focus. Members were invited to comment on the proposal.

Members supported the proposed structure of the Fourth Review but made the following comments -

  1. There should be an overall review of the effectiveness of the policy instead of just looking at individual areas. In particular, the Administration should focus on ensuring timely implementation of various programmes.
  2. Priority should be awarded to ensuring public health. For example, by improving indoor air quality.
  3. Coastal zones should be included in Chapter 8 of the Fourth Review, Conservation of the Natural Environment and Ecology.
  4. Liaison with Guangdong should be covered in Chapter 12, Integration Issues, especially as regards joint planning with the Pearl River Delta.
  5. The continued application of international agreements to Hong Kong after 1997 should be reviewed in Chapter 14, Regional Co-operation.
  6. The Fourth Review should pay special attention to the effect of enforcement. The Administration might need to rely more on penalties in controlling pollution.
  7. The Administration should review the Polluter Pays Principle as part of Government’s financial management strategy.
  1. The Administration should follow up with the Transport Branch regarding incorporation of environmental considerations in its performance pledge.

DS/PEL thanked members for their suggestions and undertook to consult members again on the draft of the Fourth Review before submitting it to the Executive Council.

The meeting ended at 10:30 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 September 1997

Last Updated on 18 August 1998