由於部份建議的改善措施 (例如廣東道與柯士甸道交界的行車隧道) 需要進行可行性研究及環境影響評估，兼且上述措施均未開始向區議會和油尖旺區居民進行諮詢，未知市民是否接受，政府不可能於短期內向議會提交一套解决九龍區交通擠塞和環境惡化的方案。
政府官員在1月8日的會議上首次披露，大角咀區共有47棟樓宇的區民，即數萬名市區居民，將會因建設高鐵隧道而損失潛在發展權益，而很多居民尚被蒙在鼓裡。鑑於終審庭在2003年Director of Lands v Yin Shuen Enterprises Ltd 的裁決，這些居民即使向政府索償，也不會取得等同於正常更改地契、重新發展時所獲得的「期望價值」。更何况這些居民在索償前，先要付出大筆支付給測量師、工程師和律師的顧問費用。
Five obstacles facing XRL:
Insurmountable obstacles faced by the government option for Express Rail link
The “XRL Expert Group” has reviewed the answers provided by government officials to members’ questions in the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee meetings on December 18, 2009, and January 8, 2010, and identified five main issues which are yet unanswered. It appears that government is either unable or unwilling to find solutions for these engineering, legal and procedural obstacles within the next few months:
1. The failure to realize “Co-location” of Boundary Crossing Facilities impacting the benefits of a “High Speed Rail” link
It appears that legal constraints limit the implementation of “co-location” in Hong Kong unless changes are made to the law or the Basic Law. It is unclear whether these modifications can be completed and it is not clear whether feasibility studies by the executive and legislative branches in both the Mainland and Hong Kong have been commenced and when these will be completed. Once “co-location” is deemed unfeasible, high-speed rail passengers (including long-distance commuters) will have to spend an additional hour or two to their journey time to get off the train and commit to inspection at the nearest mainland port border station. This means that the high-speed railway is a concept in name only and merely becomes a de facto medium-speed railway. Although the so-called high-speed rail service sounds attractive, the lack of a co-location will reduce patronage and reduce the economic benefits. Even if the executive authority in Hong Kong is willing to consider electronic pre-screening or mobile inspection in the train they would still face uncertain legal and operational obstacles which are impossible to be resolved in the near future.
In the absence of the “co-location”, the nature of the high-speed rail will be change fundamentally and it becomes a simple “regional express” connecting Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, similar to the existing operation of the current “through train” services. For many long distance passengers, it will become more convenient to use alternative modes to travel to Shenzhen Futian Station or the Shibi Station in Guangzhou rather than depart from the West Kowloon Terminus.
These changes in operation and patronage will require a review of how Hong Kong can most effectively connect with the national express rail network. If it is merely a “regional express” with lower efficiency the strategic position will change and the proposed operation of the link needs to be fine-tuned and the cost reduced.
2. Traffic Congestion in Kowloon and Environmental Degradation
The “West Kowloon Reclamation Development Traffic Study” was discussed in the Finance Committee on 8 January. The responses show that after the West Kowloon Terminus has been completed the additional traffic will seriously affect at least 18 junctions in Kowloon, Jordan Road needs to be widened to 13 lanes, turns will be removed from many junctions along Nathan Road, the traffic would be forced through side streets, the traffic in 11 inner streets will increase dramatically, and roads will encroach on parks and the West Kowloon Cultural District (hereafter the “WKCD”). This will result in severance and dramatically undermine the community environment.
The study also shows that it may be technically infeasible for some of the recommended improvement measures to be implemented, and that there may not be solutions for all problems.
Some of the proposed improvement measures (such as the Canton Road underpass at Austin Road) would require feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments, and neither the District Councils nor the Yau Tsim Mong District residents have been consulted on the measures. It is therefore questionable whether all these plans are be acceptable to the public. It is impossible for the Government to confirm in the near future to LegCo that the traffic improvement and environmental mitigation measures can be implemented.
3. The Impairment of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD)
According to the “West Kowloon Reclamation Development Traffic Study ,” Canton Road and Austin Road West will need to be widened and permanently occupy part of the land earmarked for the cultural district. At the same time, an area underground will be designated for rail which will result in constraints on the development of the district as noise and vibrations limit the placement of high quality cultural and performing venues above it. During the construction of the express rail link, it has to recoup one-third of the land in the WKCD and half of the seashore line for a long period of time. This will make it difficult for the WKCD to be completed in 2014 and 2015 as scheduled, and deprives the public the benefit of investments made to date.
It appears that the Transport and Housing Bureau has failed to officially notify the Board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority of the various impacts, neither did it consult the cultural sector or the general public. The rail plans will now result in delays as the three architectural firms involved in the master plan design are unable to submit their design proposal on time. It is clear now that the Government is unable or unwilling to submit to LegCo solutions and compensation for the damage inflicted on the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District.
4. The compensation arrangements for the residents in Tai Kok Tsui
During the meeting on January 8, the Government revealed for the first time that there are 47 buildings in the Tai Kok Tsui District, equivalent to tens of thousands of residents, for which the potential development rights will be undermined as a result of the construction of the tunnel for the Express Rail Link. As the ruling of the Court of Final Appeal in the case of Director of Lands vs Yin Shuen Enterprises Ltd. in 2003 indicated, that although residents will be compensated by the Government, they are unable to obtain the “expected value”, which would be equivalent to the value of the change of land lease and the value when the site is being redeveloped, not to mention that the residents incur significant cost in recruiting surveyors, engineers and lawyers before they will be able to receive compensation.
During the meeting on January 8, the Secretary for Housing and Transport Eva Cheng said that she would consider setting up a “compensation committee” but did not volunteer any details. Nor did the Government indicate any amount for compensation of the loss in potential development rights under the “Railway Ordinance” and in light of the 2003 judgment of the Court of Final Appeal. Hence, it is now obvious that the Government cannot give full disclosure of the cost of compensation for the residents of Tai Kok Tsui to LegCo in the near future.
5. Social Impact Assessment in Choi Yuen Village
Persistent resistance by Choi Yuen Villagers includes a “No Moving No Demolition” demand irrespective of the increase in compensation offered by the Government. This is an unique situation which demonstrates the Government’s incompetence in completing a “Social Impact Assessment” of various land acquisition alternatives before proceeding. Such
Such assessment allows alternatives to be prioritized based on their likely environmental and social impact, and help to mitigate any impact as much as possible. Monetary compensation and “remedial measures” are “last resort” solutions after all options have been evaluated based on scientific and professional analyses. Villagers’ vigorous reaction revealed that the demolition of Choi Yuen Village is apparently causing a huge environmental and social impact.
Choi Yuen Village is a piece of arable land whereas large areas of brown field land degraded by scrap yards for cars and container storage can be found nearby. The use of green field for rail facilities breaches all principles of proper land use. Question remains why Government does not consider acquisition of semi-deserted and un-developed brown field sites, so as to safeguard the countryside landscape and local agriculture? Why has there been no evaluation of moving the proposed infrastructure away from Choi Yuen Village in favour of the “Kam Sheung Road” option for the link to the national express rail? Government consultants did not undertake a comprehensive “Social Impact Assessment” of all available options in their Environmental Assessment Research.
It is unacceptable that the Government has failed to develop and consider alternative options including the “Integrated Option” (the Kam Sheung Road Station plus extension of the Airport Express Rail link). Having failed to do so, sufficient time must be allowed to make provide answers to the issues set out above
In view of the five engineering, legal and procedural obstacles set out above, it appears that we now have “five mountains” facing the Express Rail Link. Not only is the Government unable to provide appropriate answers with good justification in good time, it has proven to be difficult to obtain financial support for the Express Rail Link in a smooth manner. The XRL Expert Group appeals to the Government to not waste the time of the legislators by applying for funding in great haste without first resolving the “five mountains”.
The Government should now shelve the application of funding for three months to allow for time to conduct complete and adequate research.
It should disclose all relevant information to the public and allow time for a professional and adequate public debate to address all concerns.
At the same time, the Legislative Council should employ an independent consultant to assess and review the “Integrated Option” (the Kam Sheung Road Station plus Airport Express Rail extension proposal) against the West Kowloon Terminus option, so that a decision can be reached which best suits the needs of the public.
XRL Expert Group
The Professional Commons
13 January 2010