Hong Kong Court Clears Construction of $11 Billion Bridge

Hong Kong’s government won an appeal to overturn a court ruling that the environmental aspects of a 72.9 billion yuan ($11.3 billion) bridge under construction weren’t properly assessed.

The three judges at the Court of Appeal, led by Robert Tang, ruled unanimously today that the environmental department won the appeal against a suit filed by Chu Yee Wah, a 66-year- old woman, according to court documents.

Chu in April won a lower-court victory on the Hong Kong- Macau-Zhuhai bridge, a key initiative under Chief Executive Donald Tsang, leading the government to halt construction on as many as 80 projects. Tsang’s administration has argued the bridge, due for completion in 2016, will speed up travel in the Pearl River Delta and improve economic links.

“We did it not for ourselves, but for the air quality of Hong Kong,” Alan Wong, Chu’s lawyer, told reporters outside the court today. “I need to read the verdict in detail to give legal advice to my client.”

No decision has been made on whether to appeal the judgment, Wong said.

“The project has been delayed by almost a year, costing about HK$6.5 billion,” Eva Cheng, secretary for transport and housing, told reporters in Hong Kong today. “The government will strive to commence project works before the end of this year.”

Competition Concern

Apart from the bridge, a HK$60 billion ($7.7 billion) cross-harbor metro line is also affected by the ruling on Chu’s case, hurting Tsang’s effort to boost the economy by building infrastructure. Tsang announced 10 projects in 2007 to support growth after a decade in which the city suffered two recessions, a property market crash, the SARS epidemic and the resignation of his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa.

In a May 19 speech, Tsang said he had visited Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore and saw how “one construction project after another” had transformed the cities. “But when I look at Hong Kong’s infrastructure projects and realize how they have been delayed unnecessarily, I begin to worry about its ability to sustain its competitiveness.”

“The Environmental Protection Department welcomes the court’s judgment,” it said in a statement on the government’s website today. “The department will continue to implement every possible policy in place to protect the environment.”

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product grew an annual average 3.8 percent from 1996 to the end of 2006, behind Singapore’s 5.7 percent and Shanghai’s 11.7 percent gains. Singapore’s economy is forecast to overtake Hong Kong’s this year, while Shanghai’s surpassed it in 2009.

The case is Chu Yee Wah and the Director of Environmental Protection, CACV84/2011 in the Hong Kong Court of Appeal.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sophie Leung in Hong Kong at sleung59@bloomberg.net; Marco Lui in Hong Kong at mlui11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Panckhurst at ppanckhurst@bloomberg.net

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