LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 511/96-97
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/EA/1

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Thursday, 7 November 1996 at 10:45 a.m. in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building Members present :
    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai (Chairman)
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, MBE, FEng, JP
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon MOK Ying-fan
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP
Members attending :
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Member absent :
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
Public officers attending :
All Items
    Mr Bowen LEUNG
    Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands
    Mr A G Cooper
    Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)
Item IV
    Mr Elvis W K AU
    Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Territory Assessment Group)
    Mr B C K FUNG
    Government Town Planner/Territorial and Sub-regional
    Mr Uy Tat-ping
    Chief Electrical and Mechanical Engineer/Electricity Legislation
Item V
    Mr Eric Johnson
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services
    Mr Joseph SHAM
    Senior Fisheries Officer
Item VI
    Mr Ian Petersen
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Works/Policy and Development
Item VII
    Dr M J Broom
    Principal Environmental Protection Officer
    (Water Policy)
    Mr W Y SHIU
    Chief Engineer (Technical Services) Civil Engineering Department
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)245/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 8 October 1996 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

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

1. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting of the Panel scheduled for 3 December 1996 -

  1. Construction Dust Control Regulation; and
  2. Marine conservation and marine parks management.

(Post-meeting note: at the request of the Administration, (a) was subsequently deleted from the agenda.)

III. Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)221/96-97, 244/96-97(01) and 244/96-97(02))

2. Members noted that the following papers had been issued since the last Panel meeting held on 8 October 1996 -

  1. Wild Animals Protection (Amendment) Bill 1996;
  2. Review of Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme; and
  3. Toxic Air Pollutant Emissions Inventory for Hong Kong.

3. The Chairman advised that the Panel would further discuss (b) after the Chinese New Year.Clerk to note

IV. Erection of overhead power lines

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)244/96-97(03),(04) and 266/96-97(01))


4. Members commented that the Administration should have learnt a lesson from the Black Point case where the routing of the 400kV Power Transmission System had aroused strong objection from the affected residents. They called on the Administration to review the adequacy in accordance with the present standards of the existing procedures and legislation governing high-voltage overhead power line projects from inception to construction to operation. Members considered it of paramount importance that the would-be-affected residents should be thoroughly consulted. They opined that the Administration should play a monitoring role in the consultation process to ensure that all parties to be affected by the project would have access to complete and correct project information. In members' view, the Home Affairs Department should be in a position to assist in getting the information across to these residents. A member proposed to hold public hearings and to update the concerned district board on the project regularly.

5. In response, representatives of the Administration made the following points -

  1. Like public works projects, consultation must be done before high-voltage overhead power line projects could proceed. The power company in question had to consult the relevant bodies like the Advisory Council on the Environment, district boards, rural committees, village representatives, etc. In the light of the Black Point case, the Administration was actively reviewing the consultation process in respect of large projects with a view to bridging any gaps in communication. One of the problems identified was that for large projects, the lead time between consultation and actual implementation could be as long as three to four years. During this period, changes in district board membership and movements of residents could pose serious communication problems and might give rise to misunderstanding. The Administration was examining ways to address this problem.
  2. The Administration was as concerned as members about the scope of consultation. The Administration did not consider it appropriate to take over the responsibility of the power company for consulting the relevant bodies. Moreover, due to resources constraints, the primary responsibility for consultation would still rest with the project proponent. Nevertheless, the Administration was considering ways to improve both the extent and the depth of consultation so that the views of all relevant parties could be taken into consideration before arriving at a balanced decision.
  3. Under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Bill presently under scrutiny by the Legislative Council, 400kv transmission lines would be subject to the EIA process under the Bill. The Bill, when enacted, would provide for a proper control of such type of project and other major development projects in Hong Kong. It would also enhance the transparency of the process and provide for proper public consultation at an early stage of project planning.

Planning standards and guidelines

6. Members opined that the Administration should consider tightening up the existing planning standards and guidelines for overhead power lines in accordance with the precautionary principle and review the minimum safety clearances for conductors of various voltage levels. Should these standards and guidelines be revised, there might be a need to map out a ten-year or twenty-year plan for upgrading or altering existing electricity networks.

7. In response, the Administration made the following points -

  1. While the Administration would consider the precautionary principle, the views of different parties had to be balanced. In the Black Point case for instance, the affected residents and the green groups had different opinions as regards the power line alignment. The green groups were concerned that the location and design of new pylons and overhead power lines should minimise the visual and ecological impacts on the landscape. The residents, on the other hand, were concerned about the health impact. Moreover, the financial and technical aspects of the project would need to be considered.
  2. Under the existing guidelines, the location of new pylons and overhead power lines should not dictate the pattern of future land use or sterilise land which had a good development potential. If developments underneath overhead power lines were prohibited for other than safety reasons, the land owners concerned might feel aggrieved by the resultant restrictions on developments.
  3. The safety clearances for conductors of various voltage levels quoted in Annex 2 to the Administration's paper were the minimum standards. These standards were based on requirements as laid down in the Electricity Supply Regulations and had taken into consideration the International Radiation Protection Association Guidelines. Given the small size of Hong Kong and its dense population, the demand for land was high and there were practical difficulties in going for stringent standards. Notwithstanding, the Administration was closely monitoring developments in the international arena and would consider reviewing the existing minimum safety clearances.Admin
8. Members expressed concern over the health impact of the electromagnetic field generated by overhead power lines which were in close proximity to residential areas. They proposed that the Administration should consider co-ordinating with the relevant parties to follow up on the health of the affected residents. Should any adverse health impact be established, the Administration should consider compensating the affected residents. In response, Mr Bowen LEUNG said that the findings of overseas studies in this area were inconclusive. It was very difficult to establish that a disease was caused solely by a particular environmental factor. He, nevertheless, agreed to examine the feasibility of members' proposal in conjunction with the relevant departments and report back to the Panel in due course.Admin
Health impact

9. In conclusion, the Chairman requested the Administration to consider members' views to improve the consultation process, its monitoring role in the process and also to revise the planning standards and guidelines with the precautionary principle. Since the issue on consultation was not unique to power line projects, members agreed that the matter be followed up by Dr LEONG Che-hung at the House Committee. Members also suggested that the Secretariat's Research and Library Services Division explore the feasibility of conducting a study on the planning standards and guidelines in overseas countries and agreed that the Chairman would follow this up. Members asked the Clerk to get a copy of the report on the ‘Study on Health Protection of Workers and Members of Public against Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation at Radio Sites' from the Office of the Telecommunications Authority. Chairman

(Post-meeting note: The Report was presently kept at the Secretariat for members' perusal. Members were informed of its availability vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)326/96-97)

V. Clam-digging activities within Hong Kong waters

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)1968/95-96 and 266/96-97(02))

10. Mr Joseph SHAM briefed members on the Administration's paper. He advised that the reported clam dredging activities in the north-eastern waters of Hong Kong in June 1996 had ceased since August 1996. The Administration was taking the following actions to address the growing concern in the fishing community over such activities -

  1. In consultation with fishermen's associations and interest groups, the Administration was reviewing the Fisheries Protection Ordinance (Cap.171) with a view to restricting or prohibiting the use of any kind of apparatus for fishing which would be detrimental to the fishing industry and have a harmful effect on the marine ecosystem. The consultation was expected to last until the end of this year.
  2. The Administration was contacting overseas fisheries authorities to obtain information and advice about management and control of clam dredging activities.

11. At members' request for further details of the reported clam dredging activities, Mr SHAM said that owing to a great demand in Mainland China and Taiwan for a particular kind of clam which was sold at a lucrative price at $3 per catty, some fishermen connected metallic dredges to the trawl nets of stern trawlers to dredge the seabed to collect clams in large quantities. Such activities were first found in the sea off Fujian, and then in Daya Bay. Due to clashes with the small-scale fishermen there, these activities were moved to the north-eastern waters of Hong Kong. The 30 stern trawlers in question were all locally licensed vessels. The clams collected were sold in China.

12. On members' concern over the suitability of those clams for human consumption, Mr SHAM said that the water quality in the north-eastern waters of Hong Kong was good. The Administration would consider the need to conduct a study on the pollution level of these clams.Admin

13. As regards the harmful effects of clam dredging, Mr SHAM explained that the use of dredging devices to harvest clams upset the seabed and would affect marine life and water quality in the vicinity of the dredged areas.

14. In reply to a member's questions on cyanide fishing, Mr SHAM informed members that the Administration had raised this problem at meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Marine Resources Conservation Working Group and of the APEC Fisheries Working Group. Apart from participating in a conference on harmful fishing organised by the United States in Mexico in April 1997, Hong Kong would also take the lead in organising a joint workshop in 1997 with the People's Republic of China and Chinese Taipei to address the environmental impacts of cyanide fishing in coral reef areas. It was hoped that concerned economies including Philippines and Indonesia would co-operate at a regional level to tackle the problem of cyanide fishing.

VI. Suspension of Phase One Works of Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)266/96-97(03))

15. Members expressed disappointment at the Administration's failure to keep the Panel informed of the suspension of the works as they only got to know this through press reports. Members stressed that the Administration should have informed the Legislative Council at the first instance of slippages in such works, especially as these might result in extra costs and hence additional funding. Members were gravely concerned about the effects of the suspension of works on the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS). They requested the Administration to provide a full account of the incident.

16. Mr Ian Petersen reported that there was water seepage through the rock into two of the tunnel sections, one in Tseung Kwan O area and the other in Tsing Yi area. As a result, the contractor suspended the tunnel boring works progressively from mid June to the end of July 1996, leading to works stoppage at all six tunnel sections although no technical obstacles related to water seepage were encountered in the other four tunnel sections. The present problem represented only 20% of the total value of construction contracts of the SSDS Stage I. He emphasised that although there was problem with the tunnelling works, the other works of the SSDS Stage I were generally progressing well.

17. On the consequences, Mr Petersen said that due to the delays in tunnelling works, only 25% of the total sewage flow would be delivered to Stonecutters for treatment upon the commissioning of the Stage I Scheme by mid 1997. It was difficult at this stage to assess the impact on the SSDS as this would depend on whether and when the current contractor would resume work and whether the Government would need to bring in a new contractor to complete the outstanding tunnelling works. It was also too early to speculate on the need for extra costs. The Administration would endeavour to complete the project within the planned budget and on schedule, and was trying its best to resolve the present impasse within the following few weeks.

18. Responding to members' questions on the causes and the liabilities for the incident, Mr LEUNG and Mr Petersen said that it was not appropriate to give further details at this stage as this might seriously prejudice the ongoing negotiations with the contractor. They assured members that the project had been properly planned and preparation work properly done. Press reports that the suspension would lead to extra costs of five to ten billion dollars were groundless speculations. The Administration's present priority was to resolve the problem in the most sensible, cost-effective and timely manner so that the tunnels would be built as soon as practicable.

19. A member questioned the adequacy of the feasibility studies for the SSDS done by the Administration. He opined that since only 25% of the total sewage flow would be delivered to Stonecutters for treatment when the SSDS Stage I was commissioned, the Administration should consider reducing the Sewage Charge (SC) or at least suspending any proposal for increase.

20. In response, representatives of the Administration said that all the feasibility reports on the SSDS had been submitted to the Legislative Council for consideration. Regarding the charges, SC was collected to cover only the operating and maintenance costs of sewage services on the basis of costs recovery principle. SC did not cover any capital costs. Moreover, since the SSDS Stage I had yet to be commissioned, the existing SC did not cover its operating costs but only those of the sewage services already in operation. Indeed the existing levels of charges were unlikely to be adequate to prevent the SSTF from running into deficit by the end of the 1996/97 financial year. The stoppage of tunnelling works caused delay only in one part of the sewage system around the harbour area, not the whole sewage system.

21. Some members acknowledged the Administration's point that it might not be in the public interest to dig into the details at this stage. Members requested the Administration to give a full explanation to the Legislative Council as soon as it was in a position to do so, or if the Administration considered it not viable for the time being, to update members at the next Panel meeting. The Administration undertook to provide a full report, or if not feasible for the time being, a situational report for members' consideration at the next Panel meeting. At members' request, the Administration also agreed to provide information on the time-table for the SSDS works programme.Admin

(Post-meeting note: The Secretariat had obtained a copy of the Reports on the SSDS Site Investigation and Engineering Studies from the Drainage Services Department. Members were informed of their availability vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)397/96-97)Admin

VII. Update on cumulative water quality and hydrological effect of coastal developments and upgrading of assessment tools

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)244/96-97 (06))

22. Dr M J Broom briefed members on the Administration's paper on the subject. Members noted that the Administration intended to seek the Public Works Subcommittee's approval (PWSC) for funding on 20 November 1996 to conduct oceanographic surveys to update the information on the cumulative water quality and hydraulic effects of coastal developments and to upgrade the existing mathematical modelling tools at an estimated cost of $68.9 million.

23. Responding to members' queries on the need for the surveys, Dr Broom supplemented the following information -

  1. The cumulative water quality impacts of large-scale coastal developments were first assessed in 1982 under the "Study on Harbour Reclamation and Urban Growth". Further water quality assessments were conducted in the context of the Metroplan and Ports and Airport Development Strategy (PADS) studies in the late 1980s to evaluate the feasibility of the proposed developments and identify environmental constraints at the strategic planning level. With careful modelling assessment, planning and mitigatory measures, the cumulative effects of these developments had been kept within acceptable limits. However, as a result of continuing growth in both population and economic activities, there was pressure for more developments. In order to make the most accurate possible assessments of future proposed developments as and when the proposals were put forward, it was important that the Administration could use the best available tools and the most up-to-date information, hence the need for the proposed surveys.
  2. To keep pace with developments, there was also a need for a new suite of mathematical models which would take advantage of the latest advances in computer technology and in modelling techniques. To make the most of these, it was important that they should be calibrated with up-to-date field data which reflected the present position of the cumulative changes in water quality. As the existing hydrological and water quality survey data was collected nearly seven years ago when most PADS projects had just started, the data against which the models were calibrated were outdated and new data were needed. Furthermore, to strengthen the capability of the existing models, it was important to improve the database, particularly in areas further afield the inner harbour.

24. Members generally considered the merits of the surveys unclear as to how they would mitigate environmental impacts of large-scale coastal developments, for example, how the surveys could serve as a guide to the PADS projects and the SSDS.

25. In response, Mr LEUNG and Dr Broom emphasised that the new models calibrated with new data gathered from the proposed surveys would enable the Administration to assess accurately the likely impacts, including transboundary impacts, of any proposed developments outside the harbour area, and that is was important to prepare for such an eventuality now, rather than wait until such proposals came forward. The survey data coupled with the new models would also enable the Administration to resolve the effects of relatively small scale developments in critical areas.

26. Addressing some members' concern that the surveys might be used to justify reclamation, Mr LEUNG stressed that the Administration did not have any predetermined decisions on reclamation and the studies would have impact on the decisions to be taken. He agreed to provide members with more specific and detailed information when the proposal was submitted to the PWSC.Admin

VIII. Any other business

27. Dr TSE Wing-ling proposed and members agreed to elect a deputy chairman of the Panel at the next Panel meeting. Clerk to note

The meeting ended at 1:00 p.m
Legislative Council Secretariat
12 December 1996

Last Updated on 18 August 1998