Legislation governing environmental permitting for infrastructure development projects is the norm in both developed and developing countries. The degree of assessment, transparency, public participation and discretion afforded to the approving authority varies from country to country. Hong Kong is fortunate to have in place a rigorous, transparent and pragmatic environmental permitting legislation in the form of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO). This article aims to outline the requirements of the EIAO and provide a brief overview of the key issues and potential implications on the planning, design, construction and operation of further container terminal development in Hong Kong. While written in this context, the general concepts are broadly applicable to any country or territory with a well developed environmental permitting system.
Background on the EIAO
The EIAO came into operation on 1 April 1998 with the stated purpose to ‘Provide for assessing the impact on the environment of certain projects and proposals, for protecting the environment and for incidental matters’. The mechanism for achieving this aim is the environmental impact assessment process and environmental permit system. The EIAO is administered by the director of environmental protection with the secretary for the environment being the approving authority.
The legislative framework of the EIAO includes the separate ‘Technical Memorandum on Environmental Impact Assessment Process’ which provides guidance to the director on the administration of the EIAO including setting out the principles, procedures, guidelines, requirements and criteria for the submission and acceptance of environmental impact assessment reports and the issuance of environmental permits.
Applying the EIAO to container terminal development
Schedules two and three of the EIAO specify the criteria that define designated projects falling under the control of the EIAO. There are a number of criteria by which any significant container terminal development would be classified as a designated project under the EIAO.
In the first instance, the engineering feasibility study for the development would be classified as a designated project under schedule three as “urban development projects with a study area covering more than 20ha”. Aside from this, the construction and operation of the development would also be classified under schedule two as “a container terminal (including its container backup facility” as well as potentially “reclamation works (including associated dredging works) more than 5ha in size” and “a dredging operation exceeding 500,000m3”.
Other criteria may or may not be met depending on the location and scale of the proposed development. What is certain is that any further container terminal development in Hong Kong would fall under the control of the EIAO. Similarly, any conditions attached to the approval of the EIA report and the environmental permit would need to be incorporated in the planning, design, construction and operation of the proposed facility. This would include any mitigation measures identified for the avoidance, minimisation and control of the identified potential environmental impacts during both the construction and operation stages of the project.
Implications for future development in Hong Kong
Potential environmental impacts associated with any substantial container terminal development may include varying degrees of impact on air quality, noise, water quality, waste management, ecology, fisheries, landscape and visual and cultural heritage. The majority of potential environmental impacts associated with container terminal development are likely to be localised and site specific. For instance, the magnitude of potential impacts on cultural heritage is generally dependent on the nature and past usage of the proposed site with impacts restricted to affected areas within or near to the site boundary. In this way, the majority of potential impacts can be avoided or minimised through careful selection of the site for the proposed development. However, several key environmental issues relating to air quality, water quality and waste management would have wider implications and are less dependent on the proposed site. These issues are likely to be applicable to a greater or lesser extent to any further container terminal development in Hong Kong.
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