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Environmental row threatens Hong Kong rail project

A ROW between Hong Kong's environmental protection department and the Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation is jeopardising design and construction contracts worth millions of pounds on the £700M East Rail extension project.

At risk are design and supervision deals awarded to consultants Binnie Black & Veatch and Mott Connell, the local arm of Mott MacDonald, plus four construction orders due to be awarded this week.

BBV designed the 8km rail line between Sheung Shui and the boundary crossing with mainland China at Lok Ma Chau, while Mott Connell engineered the station at Lok Ma Chau including ancillary works.

The row erupted after the EPD refused to issue an environmental permit for the construction of the spur line, saying construction would badly affect Long Valley, an area with more than 200 bird species.

The landmark decision has also pitted one government agency against another, with the Transport Bureau supporting the KCRC proposal. The EPD, meanwhile, is supported by international wildlife groups, plus the United Nations.

The KCRC said it planned to appeal by November 16 against the EPD decision, but added that if the appeal failed the entire project would be scrapped.

One senior engineering executive told NCE: 'It had to happen. The way Hong Kong has evolved over the last five or six years meant that sooner or later there was going to be a clash between engineering and environmental interests.

'I think the decision surprised KCRC, which underestimated the strength of feeling against the project. Since the decision, the KCRC has acted like a petulant child who, finding he is on the losing side, threatens to take his football away.'

The Sheung Shui-Lok Ma Chau spur line should have been completed in 2004.

A KCRC spokesman said the corporation had carefully considered more than 10 alternative routes including those put forward by the green groups. None of these routes were practicable.

It said northern alignments would adversely affect 4,000 people and require the relocation of a slaughterhouse, sewage treatment works and other facilities. A southern routing would affect a similar number.

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