The government's environment advisers have agreed to the plan to build a third runway at the airport, even though experts are worried about its impact on the sea.
The agreement by the Advisory Council on the Environment means the focus will shift to the question of how the multibillion-dollar plan will be funded.
Council chairman Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing said it had recommended the government accept the environmental impact assessment report and issue a permit with 20 conditions attached.
“A majority of the members supported endorsement with conditions,” he said after a four-hour meeting.
The recommendation will be sent to the Director of Environmental Protection who must decide within 30 days whether to issue a work permit to the Airport Authority. Conditions include creating a 2,400 hectare marine park; two funds to support improvements to the marine ecology and fisheries resources; and speed controls on the airport authority’s ferries.
Lam said there had been no formal vote. He was not worried about the decision being challenged in court. Some green activists had said the report had mistakes and measures to pay for environmental damage were not convincing. Lam said the authority would still have to satisfy the council on details related to the conditions before it could start work in 2016.
The authority would have to come up with funds "substantial" enough to support conservation of dolphins in a sustainable manner. But he would not say if the HK$150 million proposed by the authority for each of the two funds was enough.
Ng Chi-Kee, acting chief executive officer of the authority, said the agreement was a milestone. It would maintain the city's competitiveness as an air traffic centre. “We will respond to the council as soon as possible, and step up the planning process of the runway,” he said. Ng saw no reason for the courts to become involved in the report.
The project will mean the permanent loss of at least 650 hectares of sea habitats and will mean Chinese white dolphins will be looking for a new home.
Before the meeting, green activists and a dozen Ma Wan residents protested against the project. The residents, from the
Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said the government would look at how to pay for the runway. He denied the estimated cost was now well over the previous forecast. “The reports that the runway will cost HK$200 billion are groundless,” he said.