Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)352
(These minutes have
been seen by the

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 19 September 1997, at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin (Chairman)
Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Henry WU
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members attending :

Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming

Public officers attending :

Items IV - VI

Mr Rob LAW
Director of Environmental Protection

Items IV and V

Ms Joey LAM
Principal Assistant Secretary for
Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)1

Assistant Director of
Environmental Protection (Air)

Item VI

Mr Martin GLASS
Deputy Secretary for the Treasury

Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Policy and Development)

Mr Danny TSUI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)3

Mr Clement LAU
Assistant Director of Drainage Services (Trading Fund)

Business Manager
Drainage Services Department

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Connie SZE-TO,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)240)

The minutes of the meeting held on 22 August 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.Members agreed to the following meeting arrangements on Friday, 24 October 1997 -

  1. to hold a joint meeting with the Panel on Health Services at 8:30 am to discuss the subject of "centralised incineration facility"; and

  2. to hold the regular Panel meeting after the joint meeting to discuss:

    1. Review on Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme; and

    2. Assessment of the effectiveness of installed noise barriers.

    (Post-meeting note: At the request of the Administration and with the concurrence of the Chairman, discussion of item (b)(i) was deferred.)

III.Information papers issued since last meeting

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)174 - Quarterly Operations Report No. 8 of the Sewage Services Trading Fund; and PLC Paper No. CB(1)178 - Quarterly Operations Report No. 14 of the High Priority Programme of the Sewage Services Trading Fund)

3.Members noted the two reports issued since last meeting.

IV.Air pollution caused by construction dust, vehicle emissions, etc.
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)233(01))

4.The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Air) (ADEP/A) gave a brief account on the air pollution problem in Hong Kong and the corresponding control programmes as detailed in the paper. He pointed out that the major issues were the high concentrations of suspended particulates, nitrogen dioxide and ozone emitted from motor vehicles and construction works.

Hong Kong's air quality

5.Responding to members' enquiries, ADEP/A clarified that about 40% of registered vehicles in Hong Kong were diesel vehicles, accounting for over 60% of vehicles running on the road. Diesel vehicles were the major sources of respirable suspended particulates (RSP) and nitrogen oxides. They emitted over half of RSP in the urban areas. Use of cleaner fuel alternatives such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) was hence an important measure to reduce RSP. It was expected that the introduction of LPG taxis on a wide scale would reduce the emission of RSP from the motor vehicle fleet by up to 30%. As regards compliance with the current Air Quality Objectives on RSP, chronic breaches were observed in four of the nine stations, namely in, Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po, and Central and Western, and a constantly high level was also recorded in Tsuen Wan.

6. On the need for reviewing existing Air Quality Objectives which were promulgated in 1987, ADEP/A advised that the preparation work for such a review commenced in 1995. A working group comprising representatives from the medical profession and other relevant fields was set up in March 1997 to study local and overseas information on the relationship between health and air pollution and to consider the need to revise the Objectives in the light of changes in international air quality standards and latest technological development in measurement of air pollutants.

7. In elaborating the problem of high concentrations of ozone, ADEP/A said that an increasing trend of its high concentrations had been observed in Hong Kong in recent years resulting in reduced visibility. Ozone was formed in the atmosphere mainly by reactions between nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons emitted from diesel vehicles and fuel stations. Apart from local factors, increased industrialisation and economic activities in Shenzhen and Guangdong had contributed to the high ozone level in Hong Kong. To tackle the problem, in addition to tightening control on vehicle emissions, the Administration had been discussing with the trade on devices to reduce emissions from fuel stations. Steps had been taken to improve co-operation between the Special Administrative Region and the Guangdong governments on control and prevention of air pollution problems of mutual concern through the Hong Kong - Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group.

Control of vehicle emissions and smoky vehicles

8.Responding to a member's enquiry about vehicle emission standards of overseas countries, ADEP/A informed that Hong Kong had adopted the standards of the European Community for petrol and diesel vehicles which were at similar level or more stringent than those imposed in Japan. Diesel vehicles imported from Japan into Hong Kong had to meet the European Community standards.

9.On the control of emissions from public transport, ADEP/A said that the same emission and fuel standards applied to public and private mode of transport alike. The Administration was in close liaison with public transport companies to explore new technology to reduce air pollutants emitted from their fleet. Development strategies with emphases on rail-based transport system and cleaner fuel alternatives would be beneficial in reducing road traffic and improving air quality.

10.A member welcomed the use of chassis dynamometers to test smoke emissions of vehicles to improve accuracy. She called for expedited introduction of the new test and road-side checking. The member further remarked that the Government should help improve the general maintenance standard of motor vehicles to tackle the problem of smoky vehicles at source. By way of illustration, she cited the example of the United States where garages were graded according to their maintenance standards and quality of services. Her views were shared by another member who opined that a designated government department should be responsible for regulating the service standards of vehicle repair shops.

11.Responding to views on the use of dynamometer test, ADEP/A said that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) was experimenting with the new technology and had planned to introduce the new test to all light duty smoky vehicles by late 1998 and eventually extend to all smoky vehicles. Given the technical difficulties and safety consideration, the test would be conducted in 18 designated testing centres. Discussion was underway to purchase and install the necessary equipment in these centres.

12.As regards enhancement of general maintenance standards of motor vehicles, ADEP/A stressed the importance of establishing an effective and accurate test on smoke emissions prior to imposing a minimum maintenance standard on vehicle repairers for compliance. The Administration believed that the maintenance standard of motor vehicles would be raised consequent to the use of the dynamometer test because vehicles would pass the test only if they were fully maintained and well tuned. To ensure compliance with the required standard, the Administration would designate qualified contractors to administer the test. It had no intention at the present stage of imposing regulations on the general maintenance standard of vehicle repairers.

13.While agreeing that the Administration should strengthen measures to control vehicle emissions, a member stressed the need to set measurable targets for various programmes to improve air quality. He remarked that some U.S. environmental laws had prescribed targets which were useful in monitoring progress of programmes and assessing their effectiveness.

14.In response to the member, the Director of Environmental Protection (D/EP) concurred that concrete targets should be set for air pollution control programmes. However, the changing nature of the sources of air pollution had made it difficult for the Administration to devise clear targets in the longer term. For example, the significant growth in vehicle numbers in recent years had worsened air quality, and the restructuring of Hong Kong's manufacturing industry had reduced pollution arising from industrial processes. Nevertheless, short-term targets for control programmes were published in EPD's annual reports and the department was actively discussing with the transport trade on the practicability of drawing up a time-table to phase-out diesel vehicles.

Emission from idling vehicles

15.Addressing a member's concern over the nuisance caused by emissions from idling vehicles, ADEP/A advised that the Administration had launched a publicity campaign to educate the public and drivers to switch off engines while idling and waiting and was collecting information from overseas authorities on regulatory controls on idling vehicles and their enforcement. Relevant bodies including the transport trade were being consulted on the practicability of introducing legislative control on idling vehicles having regard to the local operating environment and transport requirements.

V.Pilot scheme for liquefied petroleum gas taxis
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)233(02); and RP05/96-97 - report provided by the Research and Library Services Division of the PLC Secretariat)

16.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)1 (PAS/PEL(E)1) briefly explained the pilot scheme. In gist, its main purpose was to collect information on costs and maintenance of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) taxis as well as to gain local operational experience to address the concerns of the transport trade and the public. Subject to satisfactory results of the scheme, a detailed plan for introducing LPG vehicles on a large scale in Hong Kong would be worked out. Members in general supported the use of LPG as a cleaner automotive fuel to help alleviate vehicle emission problem. They welcomed the launch of a pilot scheme of LPG taxis to examine the feasibility of using gas vehicles in Hong Kong. Members however, were seriously concerned about the safety of LPG vehicles, in particular about the location of filling stations. They sought information on the experience of overseas countries in using such vehicles.

17.In response, the Administration said that LPG vehicles were widely used in many countries, notably Japan, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia, for over 30 years. The advantage of LPG in terms of environmental impact, its local availability and concerned energy policies were major factors for using it as a fuel in these countries. While the Administration did not have information on the reasons as to why Germany did not use LPG vehicles, some European countries were exploring the feasibility of using natural gas as an alternative fuel. In some countries, LPG vehicles were not allowed to use certain roads due to economic and resource availability considerations rather than safety reasons. No such restriction was imposed in Japan, Italy and the Netherlands. The over 30-year overseas experience had shown that LPG vehicles were no worse than diesel or petrol vehicles in terms of safety. To study the feasibility of using LPG vehicles in Hong Kong, the Administration had set up an inter- departmental working group. It had made reference to overseas experience, examined safety issues and evaluated the risks associated with the operation of LPG vehicles and filling facilities including the possibility of serious accidents. The working group had concluded that LPG vehicles were safe and technically feasible in Hong Kong. The Administration intended to adopt the following measures to enhance the safety of LPG vehicles in the pilot scheme -

  1. vehicles would be designed and custom-made for using LPG. No conversion from diesel or petrol-driven vehicles would be permitted;

  2. vehicles would be maintained and serviced only under the supervision of recognized competent persons. To ensure compliance with the highest standards, guidelines on maintenance services would be drawn up;

  3. filling stations would be constructed and fitted with safety equipment meeting the highest safety standards; and

  4. a filling station would have to be situated at least 55 metres from residential buildings. This requirement was more stringent than that imposed in Japan which provided for a minimum distance of 20 metres.

18.As regards the designated locations of the four temporary LPG filling stations, PAS/PEL(E)1 advised that the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) had assessed the suitability of the four sites and confirmed that they had met the safety guidelines and the required standards. Some locations were more than 55 metres away from residential blocks. EMSD would also ensure that the design and operation of these stations would comply with the highest safety standards. The station at Shatin Height was an existing petrol filling station and therefore there was no need for further consultation with the Sha Tin Provisional District Board had therefore not been consulted.

19.On site identification of future filling stations, PAS/PEL(E)1 said that the Administration had taken note of residents' concern during consultation of a potential site on a reclaimed area in the Central and Western District. It was estimated that about 20 filling stations would be required if all taxis were switched to use LPG and the Administration's assessment was that sufficient suitable sites could be identified in the next five years.

20.In this connection, a member shared her experience in a study tour to Japan organised by the previous Legislative Council Panel on Transport and opined that the Japanese experience had allayed her concerns over the safety of LPG vehicles. She stressed that regulation on conversion into LPG vehicles was essential in ensuring safety and any price differential between LPG for domestic and vehicular uses must be avoided. The Administration noted the member's views and assured that regular inspection on vehicles would be conducted to check against conversion.

21.Responding to a member's view that the Administration should take the lead by switching the government vehicle fleet to LPG vehicles, PAS/PEL(E)1 said that to promote environmental protection, most of government's light duty diesel vehicles were operating on petrol and were fitted with catalytic convertors. She noted a member's suggestion to consult relevant bodies including the Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee in formulating a policy on LPG as an alternative fuel for vehicles.

22.On the details of the pilot scheme for LPG taxis, PAS/PEL(E)1 supplemented the following information -

  1. the pilot scheme would last for a year, commencing in November 1997. Initially 30 LPG vehicles arranged into five fleets would operate as urban taxis. Each fleet comprised four new and two used vehicles. The trial LPG taxis would be operated in the same mode as normal commercial urban taxis. The income generated from taxi rentals would be reverted to the sponsors of the taxis;

  2. taxi operators would be invited through newspaper advertisements to act as fleet managers. Selection would be on the basis of experience and suitability. Should more than five applicants be considered eligible, the final selection would be decided by drawing lots. The managers were responsible for hiring drivers to operate the trial taxis and collecting relevant data such as fuel consumption, reliability, repair and maintenance requirements etc.;

  3. a monitoring committee comprising representatives from the government, the taxi trade, the taxi suppliers, and professionals would be appointed in early November 1997 to steer and monitor the pilot scheme. Regular meetings would be held for this purpose; and

  4. EPD would monitor and collate information collected by fleet managers while EMSD would ensure compliance with the maintenance standards of vehicles and safety requirements in operation.

23.The Administration would update members on the pilot scheme including the selection of fleet managers and the work of the steering committee.PELB

VI.Briefing on the Sewage Services Trading Fund
(PLC Brief Ref: WB(CR)10/84(97))

24.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Policy and Development) (PAS/W(P&D)) explained that the proposal to close the Sewage Services Trading Fund (SSTF) would have no impact on the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS). He assured members that the remaining capital works projects under Stage I of the SSDS would not be affected. The Administration would seek funding approval from the Public Works Subcommittee in the near future to implement the remaining four of the six underground tunnel projects. All sewage services in the future would continue to be managed by the Drainage Services Department but on a vote-funded basis. On the present position of the tunnel projects under Stage I of the SSDS, the Assistant Director of Drainage Services (Trading Fund) advised that the new completion contract of the two northern tunnels had been awarded. Tenders were being invited for the contracts for the remaining four tunnels. The Administration anticipated that construction works for these four tunnels would commence before the end of 1997.

25.On the implications of the proposal for the sewage charging scheme, PAS/W(P&D) advised that the closure of the SSTF would not affect the legitimacy of the collection of sewage charges as the charging scheme was provided for under the Sewage Services Ordinance, Cap. 463. He stressed that the polluter pays principle as applied under the SSTF would be preserved and the Administration would seek the approval of the Provisional Legislative Council for increase in sewage charges to continue to recover part of the operating and maintenance costs of running the sewage services. The Deputy Secretary for the Treasury (DS/T) supplemented that with closure of the SSTF, a projected annual increase of 12% in sewage charges was necessary for the next three years up to 2001 in order to recover half of the total operating cost when the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works operated at the design capacity under Stage I of the SSDS . Thereafter, sewage charges would be adjusted in line with inflation.

26.Members generally supported closure of the SSTF. They considered it an appropriate time to review the sewage charging scheme which had been criticized by various trades. A member was of the view that sewage services were essential public services and should not be run on a self-financing principle under a trading fund. Another member opined that the Administration should consider the possibility of reducing the current charges.

27.In response, the Administration emphasised that the existing sewage charging scheme was fair and transparent. A sewage charge at a current rate of $1.2 per cubic metre of water consumed was levied on all water accounts and was considered affordable by the general public. At present, 14% of domestic water account holders were not required to pay any sewage charge and 40% paid a monthly charge of only $9.3. The Trade Effluent Surcharge was payable by 30 specified trade categories which produced more polluting effluents. As the strength of effluent of different types of trades varied, different rates were applicable to reflect the difference in treatment costs. In the Administration's view, the system was fair and the charges levied were reasonable. With closure of the SSTF, the Government would shoulder a larger share of the costs of providing sewage services but would not bear all the costs. Polluters would continue to pay their share of the costs.

28.Concerning reviews on other established trading funds, DS/T advised that regular reviews were conducted to monitor the performance and the financial positions of all established trading funds. It was during such reviews that problems in the SSTF were revealed. Other than the SSTF, all other trading funds had been found to be performing satisfactorily in terms of financial soundness and provision of services to customers.

29.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:40 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
17 October 1997