Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)323/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 11 September 1998, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Member attending :

Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Member absent :

Hon WONG Yung-kan

Public officers attending :

For all items

Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Item IV

Mr Howard LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services (New Airport)

Mr Albert LAM
Deputy Director of Civil Aviation (Operations and Standards)

Mr Alex AU
Air Traffic General Manager
Civil Aviation Department

Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Noise Management and Policy Group)
Environmental Protection Department

Item V

Mr Howard CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environmental and Lands (Environment)

Mr TSE Chin-wan
Assistant Director (Air)
Environmental Protection Department

Dr LAM Kwok-lun, Alain
Acting Principal Environmental Protection
Officer (Air Policy)
Environmental Protection Department

Item VI

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

Dr Malcolm BROOM
Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Water Policy and Planning)
Environmental Protection Department

Chief Engineer/Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme
Drainage Services Department

Montgomery Watson

Professor HUANG Ming-rong
Binhai Wastewater Treatment & Disposal
(HK) Consultants Ltd.

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1) 162/98-99 and CB(1) 163/98-99)

The minutes of meetings on 30 July 1998 and 18 August 1998 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2 Members agreed that the policy briefing by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1998 would be held at the next regular meeting of the Panel on 9 October 1998, followed by a joint meeting with the Transport Panel to discuss the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Taxi Trial Scheme.

(Post meeting note: The policy briefing was subsequently re-scheduled for 15 October 1998 at 8:45 am while the joint meeting with the Transport Panel was postponed to 6 November 1998.)

3 Members noted that pursuant to the discussion on the Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme on 30 July 1998, the Administration had met with representatives of the restaurant trade and a paper on the latest development of the Scheme would be provided to the Panel shortly. Members agreed that the subject should be further discussed upon receipt of the Administration's paper.

(Post meeting note : A paper on the latest development of the Scheme was provided by the Administration and circulated to members vide CB(1)224/98-99)

III Information papers issued since the last meeting

4 Members noted that no information paper was issued since the last meeting.

IV Matters arising from the meeting of 18 August 1998 about aircraft noise
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1) 155/98-99 and CB(1) 186/98-99)

5 The Chairman explained that owing to the lack of a quorum towards the end of the meeting on 18 August 1998, members agreed to discuss the way forward on the issue of aircraft noise at this meeting. She informed members that there were complaints from residents in the Peak about aircraft noise after the opening of the new airport. A member expressed concern that the problem would aggravate when the second runway came into operation and called on the Administration to inform members of the public on the flight paths for the second way as soon as possible. The Administration noted members' concern and would provide information on night flights upon operation of the airport for a certain period of time. As regards a member's request that the Administration should consider prohibiting the use of Runway 25 for landing from 11:30 pm to 6:30 am, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services said in response that efforts would be made to use Runway 07 for landing as far as possible under permissible circumstances when it is safe to do so.

6 As the subject of aircraft noise had been included into the scope of inquiry of the Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances leading to the problems surrounding the commencement of the operation of the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok on 6 July 1998 and related issues, members agreed that the matter should be left to the Select Committee and that where appropriate, the Panel would further consider the issue upon the completion of the work of the Select Committee. Members requested the Administration to provide an update on the issue after six months.

V Study of air quality in Pearl River Delta Region
(LC Paper No. CB(1) 161/98-99(01))

7 The Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (DS/PEL) briefly explained the background to the proposed joint study of air quality in the Pearl River Delta Region (the Region) by Hong Kong and Guangdong as contained in the paper. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) (PAS/PEL) added that the Administration intended to seek funding approval from the Finance Committee in October 1998. Subject to funding approval, the study work would start in April 1999 and would take approximately 18 months to complete. A report would be submitted to Hong Kong-Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group(the Liaison Group) for consideration before the end of 2000.

8 The Assistant Director (Air), Environmental Protection Department (AD/EPD) then briefed members on the study. The purpose of the proposed study was to identify the emerging air quality problems in the Region, make projection on future trends, assess their impacts and propose the necessary preventive and control measures. Two topical studies were to be conducted, namely, the "Study on Acid Rain Pollution and its Control Measures" and the "Study on Pollution of Nitrogen Dioxide, Photochemical Smog and Particulates and their Control Measures". Considering the immediate concerns and priorities of both sides, Guangdong agreed to take up the former study and Hong Kong the latter study at their own cost respectively. Both sides had agreed to share the responsibilities, the work and the findings arising from the studies, the outcome of which would assist in the formulation of future control strategies to tackle air pollution in the Region.

9 A member queried the need for the proposed study at a cost of $15 million given that pollution problems caused by increase in nitrogen dioxide and particulates had all along been a subject of study by the Environmental Protection Department(EPD). He opined that EPD should have ready data on air pollution when it proposed the Diesel to Petrol Scheme some years ago.

10 In response, AD/EPD explained as follows -

  1. For the past years EPD had conducted a number of studies on pollution and its control measures in Hong Kong. It had also formulated objectives and standards to be achieved. However, rapidly increasing air pollution emissions were having serious adverse impact on both local and regional air quality. Deterioration in visibility and increase in ozone levels were signs that the regional air pollution problem was getting worse. To prevent future deterioration of air quality in the Region, joint action on the part of Hong Kong and Guangdong was required;

  2. As a start, there was a need to find out the nature and magnitude of air pollution in the Region and to agree on such findings. Although information on air pollution and its control measures was available in Hong Kong, such information was lacking in Guangdong; and

  3. The study aimed at collecting existing information on air quality, pollution sources and projections on socio-economic growth in the Region as well as additional data on the temporal and spatial distribution of pollutant concentration. It would also assess the effectiveness of pollution control measures to be undertaken jointly by the Hong Kong and the Guangdong authorities.

11 Responding to the Chairman's enquiry about the availability of pollution data on the Guangdong side, AD/EPD advised that the Mainland had very limited information on ozone levels and photochemical smog. Although EPD had gathered such information on the Hong Kong side, a detailed analysis on the situation in the Region was not possible without corresponding data from the Mainland.

12 Referring to paragraph 5 of the information paper which stated that the outcome of the studies would assist in the formulation of future control strategies to tackle air pollution in the Region, some members were concerned whether complementary control measures would be implemented by the Mainland authorities in step with those adopted by Hong Kong. AD/EPD answered in the affirmative and said that there had been discussions with the Mainland on the need for introducing legislative control over air pollution emissions. An Expert Group comprising technical professionals from both sides would meet regularly to examine reports and exchange views. Upon completion of the two topical studies, the Expert Group would prepare a joint final report for consideration and approval by the Liaison Group with a view to formulating future control strategies to tackle air pollution in the Region.

13 Members noted that for any measures to be effective, synchronised action on the part of the Hong Kong and the Guangdong authorities was necessary. They queried whether such measures would be in line with the overall policy and the pace of environmental protection in the Mainland. DS/PEL responded that in a changing situation, it was necessary to take parallel actions; some aiming to respond to existing problems, while others for the purpose of planning. Unless and until sufficient data were in hand, the Administration could not plan ahead. He assured members that both the Hong Kong and the Guangdong authorities were committed to resolving the pollution problem, and the proposed studies were geared towards this aim.

14 A member sought clarifications on the involvement of the Mainland Authorities in the joint study. PAS/PEL advised that the Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau was involved in the study. As to whether similar joint studies had been conducted with the Mainland before, AD/EPD advised that as far as air quality studies were concerned, the proposed study was the first of its kind. PAS/PEL advised that since the setting up of the Liaison Group in 1990, there had been co-operative efforts in conserving and protecting the environment. DS/PEL added that apart from the proposed study, there had been joint studies on water quality in Deep Bay and close co-operation on the study of various options for Stage II of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme.

15 On members' concern about the high cost of the proposed study, in particular, the cost of $5.3 million for collecting existing information, AD/EPD explained that the study would involve extensive data collection and analysis work, much of which would be conducted in the field throughout the Region. A considerable amount of manpower and resources would therefore be required.

16 A member suggested setting up a satellite to monitor developments concerning the environment, weather patterns, etc. around the Region. DS/PEL replied that air quality data, such as pollutants, could not be seen but had to be analysed through chemical means. Hong Kong had already used the best available technology. It had set up air quality monitoring stations and had established computerised linkages.

17 A member was concerned about the quality of diesel supplied in the Mainland. She pointed out that owing to its relatively cheaper price, Mainland diesel was widely used by cross-border trucks. Emissions from these trucks aggravated the air quality. Rather than awaiting the completion of the study to work out control measures, she called on the Administration to liaise actively with the Mainland authorities to improve the quality of diesel.

18 DS/PEL responded that both sides were aware of the air quality problem but would need the necessary data to work out what could best be done to address the causes. On the subject of vehicle emissions, AD/EPD explained that although emissions from vehicles using a lower grade of diesel would contain a higher content of sulphur and emit more respiratory suspended particulates, the level of smoke emissions were directly related to the state of maintenance rather than the quality of diesel. The Administration had introduced new measures to detect more accurately smoke emissions of vehicles with a view to improving the standard of vehicle repair and maintenance. There had been discussions with the Guangdong authorities on the need to upgrade the quality of diesel. Since this was a nation-wide issue, any decision would be implemented step by step. The Administration was aware that the Guangdong authorities had worked out a timetable for the use of unleaded petrol.

19 Following up on the Administration's reply, the member enquired about the actions taken by the Administration to upgrade the standard of vehicle maintenance. AD/EPD supplemented that the Administration had been launching publicity programmes in promoting public awareness on the need to regularly maintain vehicles. EPD also assisted the Hong Kong Productivity Council in organising courses for vehicle repairers to improve maintenance services. In response to members, the Administration agreed to seek to provide information on the proposed timetable of the Guangdong authorities to upgrade the quality of diesel and petrol supplied in the Region.

20 Since the joint study worked on the assumption that the source of pollution was partly attributed to the neighbouring areas, a member queried the basis for such an assumption. AD/EPD explained that deterioration in visibility and the increase in ozone levels were signs that the regional air pollution was getting worse. The occurrence of photochemical smog, which could not have been caused locally, was a strong indication that the problem was a serious one that needed to be tackled in conjunction with the neighbouring areas. The results of some basic analysis conducted by the Guangdong authorities had indicated that about 60% to 70% of pollution in the Guangdong Province originated from the Region. The proposed study was needed to identify the nature and magnitude of the pollution problem in order to work out control measures. The Administration was confident that once the pollution problem in the Region had been dealt with, the problem of deteriorating air quality in Hong Kong could eventually be resolved. PAS/PEL supplemented that since 60% to 70% of pollution in the Guangdong Province originated from the Region which included Hong Kong, there was a need to assess the spatial distribution of pollutant concentration before control measures could be worked out.

21 Summing up the discussion, the Chairman pointed out that the Administration had not done enough to resolve the air pollution problem in Hong Kong, particularly in relation to vehicle inspection and maintenance. As regards co-operation with the Mainland, it would be useful to have information on her plan on pollution control and how it would impact on air quality in the Region. Noting the differences in the administrative cultures between Hong Kong and the Mainland and the practical difficulties on the part of the Administration to give a clear undertaking on what implementation measures would be agreed upon by the two sides in future, the Panel welcome that the two sides were having preliminary exchanges of views and that it was the intention of both Hong Kong and Guangdong to come up with joint solutions to tackle air pollution problems.

22 PAS/PEL assured members that the Administration was committed to working as openly and as actively as it could with its counterparts in the Mainland to improve the regional air quality.

23 A member expressed reservations on the study because he had doubt over its effectiveness. Members requested and the Administration agreed to provide further details on the proposed study, in particular on the types of information available and to be collected, and a detailed breakdown of the cost of the study.

VI Phase I of Environmental Impact Assessment for Stage II of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme
(L C Paper Nos. CB(1)161/98-99 (02) and (03))

24 DS/PEL briefly reported the progress of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS). The Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Plant had been in operation and had been treating sewage loads from North West Kowloon. The contracts for the deep connecting tunnels had been re-awarded and the contract works were progressing well. All the tunnelling works under Stage I were expected to be completed in the year 2000. That would mean that by then, about 70% of the sewage load from the main urban area would receive a reasonable high level of treatment before discharging into the Harbour. The effluent from new towns like Shatin, Taipo, Sheung Shui, Yuen Long, as well as Stanley was receiving secondary treatment. There was a wide range of ongoing works to upgrade the level of treatment of sewage as well as the sewage infrastructure. He referred members to the information paper which set out the outcome of the first phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study on SSDS Stage II and the estimate on the cost and land implications of the various options. DS/PEL said that the Administration would consult the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) on the selection of the options and would brief interested parties, including the green groups, tertiary academic institutes and professional bodies on the outcome of the consultants' findings. It was expected that the selection of the option would be finalised by the end of the year, after which detailed site specific EIA for the construction and operation phases of the selected option would be carried out.

25 With the aid of a visualiser, the Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Water Policy and Planning), Environmental Protection Department (PEPO) briefly explained the progress of SSDS and the key differences between the acceptable options as outlined in the information papers. He stated that there was a clear upward trend in sewage bacteria in the waters of the Harbour which was ample evidence of continuing deterioration.

26 Members were in general concerned about the high capital and recurrent costs of SSDS. Given the difficulties encountered in implementing the Stage I works and the huge financial commitments involved, they raised doubt about the technical viability of the subsequent stages of works. Members stressed the importance of sustainable development and the need to take account of population growth in designing sewage infrastructure. They opined that the Administration should make reference to overseas countries which had adopted advanced waste disposal technology. Some members requested the Administration to explore the feasibility of other alternatives to SSDS. They opined that SSDS should not be the only means to improve water quality and the Administration should implement other measures to achieve the end.

27 As the SSDS Stage I project started before the enactment of the EIA Ordinance, Cap. 499, members sought clarifications on whether the project had complied with the requirements as set out in the Ordinance, and whether there had been proper consultation, particularly with the Mainland authorities. They were also concerned whether the red tides in the Tolo Harbour were attributed to discharged sewages receiving secondary treatment. Some members asked for the reasons for selecting a centralised treatment system instead of a distributed system. A member said that as a responsible government, the Administration should not pass the cost of sewage treatment onto members of the public.

28 In response to members' comments, DS/PEL explained as follows -

    Cost implications

    (a) The Administration would be able to provide more details on costs when it had arrived on a firm recommendation on the option to be adopted.

    Population growth

    (b) The options proposed had taken into account population projections up to the year 2021.

    Co-operation with the Mainland

    (c) The Administration had provided the findings of the consultants* study to the National Environmental Protection Agency, which was represented on the Expert Group on Sewage Disposal, led by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on the Mainland side and the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau on the Hong Kong side. A Technical Group was set up under the Expert Group to review the reports submitted by the consultants. The findings had been scrutinized at the government level and both sides were working closely together towards developing sustainability of sewage disposal.

    Compliance with the EIA Ordinance

    (d) Although the SSDS EIA started before the implementation of the EIA Ordinance, the works had been proceeded to the best standards. In line with the spirit of the EIA Ordinance. The SSDS EIA would comply with the procedures stipulated under the EIA Ordinance in respect of final reporting and public scrutiny thereof. The people of Hong Kong wanted to have a good sewage system in place as soon as possible and might not wish to delay the progress of works by conducting further studies. The Administration would consult ACE and other interested parties on the different options for Stage II in the coming weeks with a view to arriving at a firm recommendation on the way forward before the end of the year.

    Centralized versus distributed treatment system

    (e) The centralized treatment system at the Stonecutters Island was considered more cost effective than a distributed treatment system with multiple discharges in urban areas, although both would be able to meet the Water Quality Objectives.

    (f) Sewage treatment plants were obnoxious facilities which were not welcome by any community. The centralized treatment system minimized land requirement and allowed for the sewage systems to be moved away from the community.

    (g) In new towns such as Shatin and Taipo, secondary sewage treatment plants could well be provided for. However it would be unlikely that these facilities, which required huge land commitments, could be provided for in old developed districts.

    (h) In the extremely unlikely event that the centralized treatment system failed, untreated sewage would be discharged into the Harbour. This might result in damages to mariculture, but would unlikely affect human lives. However the possibility of such failure was very remote and the Administration considered it not justified to disrupt the community by installing a completely different system involving a distributed network of treatment plants, especially given that a distributed system based on biological treatment was inherently more likely to fail than a centralized one; and

    (i) Irrespective of which option to be selected, the Administration would retain within the system the flexibility for making future improvement, particularly in dealing with nutrient removal.

29 Given the shortage of time, members agreed to hold a further meeting on 5 October 1998 at 8:30 am to continue with the discussion and to invite interested organisations to express views on the consultants' findings.

30 Members requested and the Administration agreed to provide the following information before the next meeting -

  1. a detailed chart setting out the pros and cons of the four groups of acceptable options for SSDS Stage II; and whether projected population increase and sustainability had been taken into account in devising these options;

  2. the provisions of the EIA Ordinance with which the EIA Study had not complied;

  3. the response of the Mainland Government on the EIA Study and the names and post titles of Chinese officials with whom the Administration had consulted;

  4. the reasons for selecting a centralized treatment system instead of a distributed treatment system with treatment plants located in different districts such as in Tseung Kwan O;

  5. a list of organizations to be consulted on the outcome of the EIA Study and how they would be consulted;

  6. any other alternative options in the event that SSDS Stage I could not be completed successfully; and

  7. apart from SSDS, any other projects and/or measures to treat sewage and improve water quality.

VII Any other business

31 There being no other business, the meeting ended at 1:00 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
14 October 1998