This blog is a bit different. Last week I spent a day with Michael Mo, the young man who heads up the campaign against a 3rd runway at Hong Kong Airport. He had a fascinating story to tell. My knowledge of Hong Kong Airport was limited. I knew that the old, city-centre airport had been shut down for safety and noise reasons and been replaced by a new two-runway off-shore airport. But that was about it.
Michael explained what was happening. A third runway is being proposed. 200,000 people would be under its flight path, experiencing noise for the first time. The aim is to create a bigger hub: to increase interchange passengers from 30% of the total to 49%. The Hong Kong authorities want the new runway up and running by 2023 but they face growing opposition.
As we shared lunch in the Five Bells in Harmondsworth – one of the pubs under threat if a Heathrow 3rd runway ever went ahead – Michael told me about campaigning in Hong Kong. His biggest supporters are Hong Kong Friends of the Earth, who will publish a cost-benefit analysis of the expansion proposals by the end of the year. But he also has support within the local aviation industry and from…..the Dolphin Conservation Society. Michael noticed my bemused look. He explained. The famous Hong Kong White Dolphin is an endangered species. There are only 65 left, down from 200 in 1998. And a new runway might eliminate them altogether. Hong Kong Greenpeace has yet to back the campaign. Michael is threatening to join Greenpeace UK given the huge contribution it made to preventing a 3rd runway at Heathrow!
Bringing local residents on board presents particular challenges in Hong Kong. Many believe they can sell up if a new runway is built. But also a lot of the residents’groups in the areas affected are controlled by ‘pro-Bejing forces’ which don’t encourage rebellion.
The campaign is taking place within a wider policy debate. What Michael called ‘the China camp’ tends to favour airport expansion, both in Hong Kong and on mainland China. There is also a ‘high-speed rail camp’ which argues that a number of the regional airports built in China in recent years to boost GDP now stand virtually empty because of a lack of demand.
The campaigners also criticise the authorities for looking at the expansion of Hong Kong Airport in isolation from Macau and Shenzhen airports, both just 30 miles away. And they are critical of the emphasis on the hub.
As we compared notes, it became clear that many of the issues we faced were similar. And our campaigning methods are similar. What was clear, though, is that a decade ago we would not have been sharing lunch. Campaigners were not linking up across oceans in this way.
As we said goodbye, it was clear to me that Michael is a man on a mission, believing he can succeed. He’s buoyed up by the success of the Heathrow campaigners in winning against all the odds. He senses success is quite possible. I’ll drink to that.