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Green Group Takes Dim View Of Prada’s Bright Signboards

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP | Updated on Oct 20, 2008

Consumers will be urged to boycott upmarket fashion chain Prada if it refuses to dim its illuminated signboard in Central, a green group has warned.

The warning came as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last week said the government would study the need for legislation to control light pollution.

Friends of the Earth said the board at Prada’s flagship store at Alexandra House was unnecessarily lit from dusk until dawn.

While many of its neighbours kept their signboard lights on until early morning, Prada’s exterior lighting was the most extravagant, a survey by the group found.

Assisted by overseas activists, the group also found Prada’s Beijing store was lit up until at least 4am, while its counterparts in Singapore and Taipei showed more restraint by switching their much less extravagant lighting off no later than 2.30am.

A letter has been sent to Prada in Hong Kong asking it to rectify the situation, said Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager.

“The brand shops show no taste at all in this unrestrained quest for brightness. The consequences are a waste of energy and an unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases,” he said. “If Prada does not stop the light pollution, we will appeal to consumers to boycott it.

“We have also written to two Beijing-based green groups to ask them to follow up the issue there.”

A spokeswoman for Prada in Hong Kong said it was looking at the issue to see if a solution could be found. “The exterior lighting is part of our architecture design and we are reviewing options to reduce the lights,” she said, without saying why the lights could not be switched off earlier.

In a poll by the group, Prada’s exterior lighting was voted the second-most-ridiculous in the city, beaten only by the advertising boards on Windsor House, Causeway Bay.

Incandescent Light Bulbs May Be Banned

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Oct 16, 2008

Funding carbon audits in buildings and a possible ban on incandescent light bulbs were among measures heralded by the chief executive to combat climate change and develop a low-carbon economy.

“We will enhance energy efficiency, use clean fuels, rely less on fossil fuel, and promote a low-carbon economy – an economy based on low energy consumption and low pollution,” Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said.

Up to HK$450 million will be reserved under the Environment and Conservation Fund to partially subsidise building owners to conduct energy and carbon audits for their public space and carry out related improvement works. The subsidy details would be later worked out by the fund.

The government will also consider following overseas practice in banning incandescent light bulbs and study the feasibility of controlling outdoor light pollution by law. The mandatory energy labelling scheme for electrical appliances will also be extended to cover washing machines and dehumidifiers.

District cooling will be adopted for the Kai Tak development that will cost HK$1.4 billion to build but bring about an annual energy saving of 85 million kilowatt-hours and a reduction of 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs manager Hahn Chu Hon-keung welcomed the measures but questioned where they would lead. “The lack of a timetable and energy saving targets means the government is not yet committed,” he said.

Greenpeace campaign manager Edward Chan Yue-fai said the government should ban incandescent bulbs immediately.

Meanwhile, WWF Hong Kong welcomed an earlier announced move to ban commercial fishing in marine parks. The green group’s director of conservation, Andy Cornish, described the ban as a “historic event” for marine conservation. But the group said more substantial gains could be achieved by designating the Soko Islands as marine parks.

Causeway Bay Mall Voted City’s Worst Light-pollution Landmark

Joyce Ng – Updated on Oct 06, 2008 – SCMP

A shopping mall at a busy corner in Causeway Bay has been named the most polluting city landmark in a campaign seeking to enhance public awareness of light pollution.

An online poll, organised by the green group Friends of the Earth, recorded 347 of 639 voters picking Windsor House on Great George Street as a “ridiculous” light spot.

More than 60 spotlights were illuminating billboards with 10,000 lux of light, the group found. The intensity was 20 times as high as required for an office environment.

Voters said the spotlights were scorching and hurt the eyes, and chased away customers instead of attracting them.

The green group will hold a protest in front of the building at 7pm on Friday. It calls for participants to wear sunglasses, bring an umbrella and put on sunscreen.

“We are not opposing advertising, but half of the lights should be enough to serve the purpose and it saves energy,” said Hahn Chu Hon-keung, the group’s environmental affairs manager.

Windsor House representatives were unavailable for comment.

Among the other 11 spots nominated by voters as polluting sources, the Prada store in Central and a sign for a non-existent Tse Sui Luen Jewellery Shop in Jordan rank second and third on the list, getting 98 and 41 votes. The jewellery-shop sign, an illegal structure, was still present even though the government has issued a removal notice.

Some of the sites were still lit after midnight when there were no shoppers. Residents have to hang a cloth over their windows to block the light.

Official figures show complaints about light pollution rising. The Environmental Protection Department has received 27 complaints in the first six months of this year, compared with 40 in all of last year.

There are no environmental regulations controlling light pollution, but outdoor advertising lights are regulated for safety reasons.

Some countries have rules to adjust the direction of light to avoid disturbing residents, Mr Chu said.

“I’ve seen a jewellery shop reducing its light sign’s flash frequency after residents complained. This shows the situation is adjustable.”

Doubts Cloud Gas Deal

Sara Yin – Updated on Sep 28, 2008 – SCMP

The pink dolphins are safe, at least. The memorandum of understanding between Beijing and Hong Kong for gas supplies tied local energy needs and planning to those of the mainland. And although that meant the end of plans for a US$10 billion gas terminal on South Soko Island – which pleased environmentalists – it remains to be seen whether the deal is good for Hong Kong’s long-term interests.

Last month, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced an agreement that he had signed with the National Energy Administration, Beijing’s new energy body. It put a significant amount of Hong Kong’s gas needs into the hands of the mainland’s state-owned oil companies.

Under the memorandum, the central government ensures a supply from several sources: offshore natural-gas reserves, piped gas, and possibly an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal built on the mainland.

“Hong Kong will see a net increase of at least 1 billion cubic metres of natural-gas supply for clean power generation,” an Environment Bureau spokeswoman said. “This certainly provides for a higher stability and reliability of gas supply in the long run.”

The agreement halted the HK$10 billion plan – more than two years in the making – for local company CLP Power to build the terminal to supply LNG, a costlier but greener fuel, off Lantau Island.

Mr Tsang described the new deal as “extremely good news” for consumers and the environment. Instead of paying for an expensive LNG terminal on South Soko Island, he said, taxpayers would only have to pay for gas pipelines to the mainland.

Local green groups such as Friends of the Earth and WWF applauded the decision to abandon construction in an area populated by pink dolphins and finless tortoises. But many are concerned over what the government’s intervention means for the public.

“This memo is what I would call a potential game-changer,” said Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai. “It represents a major departure of Chinese energy policy for Hong Kong.”

Historically, Hong Kong’s two private power companies, CLP Power and Hongkong Electric, have negotiated the securing of raw materials on their own. Thanks to a scheme of control set in the early 1990s, the two utilities have been among the most profitable in the world. The government has tried to undermine this in the past by flirting with new market players. It had been considering a proposal from China Power, a mainland energy giant run by Li Xiaolin, the daughter of China’s former premier, Li Peng.

As well, a new scheme of control that reduces CLP Power’s profit margins begins next month.

“The government always seemed very supportive and positive about the terminal,” said a CLP Power employee. “We were all surprised” by the memorandum. Officially, CLP Power denies being blindsided and remains supportive.

Said Ms Loh: “The government did not let on that it was actively negotiating with the mainland … if [the government] has a new energy policy, it should make an announcement.”

While the memorandum of understanding might have come as a surprise to the public, CLP Power’s new terminal was not a done deal.

The Environment Bureau spokeswoman pointed to a Legislative Council paper dated June 30, available on Legco’s website, saying that due diligence on CLP Power’s plan was still continuing.

As early as 2003, CLP Power, which supplies 25 per cent of the city’s electricity, reported that its gas supply – Hainan Island’s Yacheng fields – would dry up by 2013. This prompted the company to propose building Hong Kong’s first LNG terminal to receive a sufficient amount from suppliers around the world. The facility would import more than 4 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year at a predetermined cost, and take at least four years to build.

After an exhaustive third-party study to assess the environmental impact of CLP Power’s proposed sites, the Environmental Protection Department chose South Soko Island and granted its approval early last year. Environmental Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah asked CLP Power to launch a public website detailing its planning efforts, and to find a way to reverse its environmental impact around the site; CLP complied.

The only approval needed then was the Executive Council’s, and even as late as July, Mr Yau seemed to think it was a foregone conclusion. With Hong Kong’s gas supply expected to run out in less than five years, he said the statutory planning process for the Soko Island terminal would start soon “although no final decision had been made”. CLP Power even had a contract with its first supplier, the British gas company BG Group.

In a statement in late June, CLP Power said: “The terminal is expected to start up no later than 2013, subject to final approval by the Hong Kong SAR government.”

Although some observers are applauding the opportunity for the city to be drawn into the mainland’s energy framework, others argue that the National Energy Administration’s policies may clash with Hong Kong’s interests. The mainland energy industry is heavily regulated, and a new, long-awaited law to commercialise the industry is yet to be enacted.

This month, a government source told the oil-industry magazine Platts: “The public consultation of the draft new energy law finished early this year, in late February, but the draft law is still held in the National Energy Administration, which was recently [created] to strengthen the government’s management of the energy sector.”

Industry observers are also wondering how the government’s deal will save consumers more money than CLP Power’s project.

“We don’t know anything about the price of the gas. At least with CLP, they would have entered a long-term contract with a known price … now it’s not clear what price the government has agreed to,” said Bill Barron, an environmental economist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“The situation reminds me of the Disneyland thing, where we didn’t know how bad the deal was until years later.”

Baptist University’s director of energy studies, Larry Chow Chuen-ho, said the Soko Island terminal would have insulated Hong Kong from supply disruptions from the mainland.

Like Professor Barron, Professor Chow is concerned about the lack of discussion about price. At least with the Soko Island terminal, he said, “we can have complete control on how much to buy and how much to pay”.

Furthermore, the amount of gas supplied can only be estimated at this point. The memorandum does not define a specific volume of gas imported each year, only a non-legally binding assurance to keep Hong Kong’s level of gas supply “over and above the current level”.

Professor Chow said he trusted Beijing to provide a sufficient supply of gas, but Professor Barron was more sceptical. “Even if everything goes well – like the new wells at Yacheng actually produce gas – the supply won’t add up to the reliable supplies the Soko Island LNG terminal would have provided. We’ll be burning more coal and creating even higher levels of pollution.”

And although the memorandum renews existing contracts with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding for another 20 years, these two companies will have to tap new wells in Yacheng. And no one seems to know when these wells will run out (if any gas is found in the first place), according to Professor Barron.

In fact, based on the memorandum, both governments will devote resources to study the feasibility of building an LNG terminal in Guangdong.

But according to the Hong Kong government, fixing price and supply was not the point of the memorandum. It was only meant to provide “new opportunities for collaboration between energy enterprises on both sides, and is by no means a supply contract binding any companies”, said an Environmental Protection Department spokeswoman. “Detailed arrangements for supplying natural gas and electricity to Hong Kong, such as pricing and quantity, will be worked out on commercial principles … on both sides.”

Professor Barron found this point “disingenuous”. With only one country to supply Hong Kong’s gas, he wondered, “How can a power company negotiate price from a strong position? The government has seriously restricted the options faced by the buyer.”

After seeing its gas-terminal plan axed, CLP Power – publicly at least – supports the government’s deal with the mainland.

“CLP, under the guidance of the Hong Kong government, is now working directly with the National Development and Reform Commission and other mainland parties on the implementation of the memorandum,” a company spokeswoman said.

Imports Of Nuclear Power Opposed By Green Groups

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Sep 15, 2008

Environmental activists have opposed further imports of nuclear-generated electricity from across the border under a new energy agreement with the mainland, though a power supplier has hinted it might expand imports.

The activists maintain that nuclear energy is an unsustainable and unsafe option for meeting rising energy demand, though it is increasingly being revisited as an alternative to ease global warming without compromising energy security.

The remarks came after Hong Kong and the central government sealed a deal last month to extend natural gas supplies to the city and ensure a continuous import of nuclear power – at a level no less than the current flow – from the Daya Bay nuclear station.

Hong Kong has been consuming nuclear power since 1994 under a purchase agreement between CLP Power (SEHK: 0002) and Guangdong Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company, in which CLP had a 25 per cent stake through Hong Kong Nuclear Power Investment.

The agreement allows CLP to import up to 70 per cent of Daya Bay’s output.

In each of the past five years, CLP has imported between 4,700 and 5,100 gigawatt-hours at a price of about 50 cents per kilowatt.

Nuclear power and natural gas each account for about 20 per cent of Hong Kong’s total electricity supply, and 60 per cent comes from coal.

While Hong Kong imports nuclear power from Guangdong, CLP exports electricity to the province. In last year’s annual report, CLP said it wanted both to extend and expand the nuclear-import arrangement.

Edward Chan Yue-fai, a Greenpeace campaign manager, said Hong Kong would be taking the wrong approach towards clean energy by importing more nuclear power.

“We have strong reservations about expanding imports, as nuclear energy is neither safe nor sustainable,” Mr Chan said, citing nuclear plant incidents in Japan that jeopardised the safety of plant staff and nearby residents.

“It is too bad that the energy deal with the mainland did not include any renewable energy imports, like wind power. It is renewable energy we should expand, not nuclear.”

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, said the group was inclined not to support further imports, citing concerns about the disposal of nuclear waste and further efforts to conserve energy.

“We can’t just resolve one problem by creating another,” he said. “Instead of expanding our energy supply, we should consider managing our energy demand through conservation and efficiency.”

Besides, Mr Chu said, further imports might also be undesirable since the mainland still had a shortage of power.

A CLP spokeswoman said it was too early to tell if the company was going to increase imports of nuclear power. “We will further discuss arrangements on generation with the government and continue to explore opportunities to participate in nuclear energy in China.”

The company noted that the Daya Bay station operated in line with international safety standards, with no major incidents reported since commercial operations began in 1994.

Use Of Natural Gas Must Balance Reliance On Fossil Fuels

Green group says use of natural gas must balance reliance on fossil fuels

Ng Kang-chung – Updated on Sep 12, 2008

Green groups have urged CLP Power to continue investing in renewable energy in Hong Kong and want rules imposed that would require natural gas to account for at least half of the fuel mix for power generation.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs officer Angus Wong Chun-yin described CLP Power’s decision to drop its plans for a liquefied natural gas terminal on South Soko Island as “natural and sensible”.

“Now the Chinese government has promised a stable supply of natural gas. There is no need for CLP to continue the Soko Islands project,” said Mr Wong, referring to a power supply deal struck last month between Hong Kong and Beijing.

He added: “Dropping the Soko Islands project should not be the end of the story. The Hong Kong government should press harder to require power companies to use more natural gas to generate power.”

At present, coal accounts for about 60 per cent of CLP Power’s fuel mix, with natural gas and nuclear power at 20 per cent each.

Coal burned by power plants has been blamed as a major source of air pollution in Hong Kong. Carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by half and sulfur dioxide by more than 90 per cent if liquefied natural gas was used to generate power, environmental officials said.

Mr Wong said the fuel mix should be set at 50 per cent natural gas.

Green Sense chairman Roy Tam Hoi-pong offered similar views.

“Dropping the Soko Islands plan means more than reducing the need to raise power fees. The government should look at it from an air quality viewpoint and ask CLP to develop renewable energy, say, wind energy.”

Using more natural gas might still push tariffs up because of higher costs, but Mr Wong and Mr Tam said social benefits could offset the costs.

Hong Kong and Beijing struck an energy agreement last month under which state-owned supplier China National Offshore Oil Corporation will continue to supply Hong Kong with natural gas for another 20 years.

Hong Kong will also receive gas from the country’s second west-east pipeline, which is being built to transport gas from Central Asia to the Pearl and Yangtze River Delta regions.

The pipeline is expected to reach Shenzhen in about five years. Hong Kong officials have estimated the city would receive about 1 billion cubic metres of gas a year from this source.

Shedding Light On A Hot Topic

A night tour of Nathan Road discovers the array of flashing neon is not as cool as it might appear.

Yau Chui-yan – Updated on Jul 20, 2008 – SCMP

Twenty people gather in Nathan Road and look up at the same flashing advertising sign for a minute.

The 20, all from different professions, none of whom know each other, have joined a “Nathan Road tour” with the same purpose – to see the world famous thoroughfare’s dazzling array of neon signs.

They are trying to count the flickering frequency of a four-storey advertising sign. Some estimate that the sign is flickering 10 times a minute, others 20 times, but most give up early because the sign is too bright to look at for a whole 60 seconds.

When told that the flickering frequency is 40 times a minute, the group is amazed. “How do you live next to a flickering light like this?” is the common response.

The first stop on the tour is St Andrew’s church on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. The group stands next to the church, which is dimly lit. They are told that there are regulations governing the lighting used on important buildings in countries like Britain.

“There are stars, in Tsim Sha tsui,” one group member says in amazement pointing at the sky. “The weather is much cooler than we expect,” another says.

But after leaving the church area, there are no more stars to be seen, just the flashing advertising signs.

The first blow is a big advertising box located at the intersection of Nathan and Austin roads.

“The lighting of the advertising box made me feel so hot,” says Leung Pak-wai, a social work student. His friend Cheung Siu-shan, a geography student, agrees.

According to Elsie Yuen Oi-chi, the group’s escort from Friends of the Earth, the difference in temperature between the city and rural areas is 10 to 12 degrees Celsius. “These advertisements contribute to the temperature,” Ms Yuen says. “When 1 watt of electricity is consumed, 1.3 watts will be consumed to use an air conditioner to lower the temperature.”

Light pollution and energy wastage from flashing advertising signs is not a new topic in Hong Kong. The situation has become serious since Kai Tak airport closed in 1998 and restrictions on blinking lights were relaxed.

From January last year to June this year, the Environmental Protection Department received 67 complaints about external lighting. The department’s response is to advise the management firm or owners of the lighting to reduce the intensity or adjust the angle of spot lamps to minimise the impact on nearby residents.

The government also issued letters last September to chambers of commerce and trade associations appealing for their support in reducing unnecessary lighting and using more energy-efficient lights.

However, what is still missing is legislation directed at light pollution.

Friends of the Earth tried to highlight the problem last month with its “dim light” campaign, in which some building owners agreed to turn off their lights for one night.

James To Kun-sun, a Democrat lawmaker representing Kowloon West, has had complaints from people living in the district.

“There is no such legislation and affected people have no way to ask for help,” Mr To says.

“Also, in some cases, the main tenant, who owns the rights to the outer area of the building, will pay some of the affected residents as compensation. This also complicates the issue.”

He has tabled questions in the Legislative Council a few times, but his request for legislation on light pollution has not received a positive response from the government.

“I don’t understand,” he says. “The government didn’t even want to research this topic. Maybe the government thinks this is business operation and the number of people affected is small.”

Mr To may be right. To most people in the city, flashing lights are advertising and nothing more.

Cathy Yu Sin-ping used to be one of those people, but she changed her mind after inspecting the flashing light boxes close up.

“At first I felt this was remote and nothing to do with me,” says Ms Yu, who spends her daylight hours working as a clerk

“After this tour, I now understand the meaning of `those who have more power create more destruction’.”

Walking along Nathan Road, Ms Yu found it was most comfortable in Yau Ma Tei, because that is the section with the fewest advertising signs.

“It is much cooler,” she said.

The group agrees that the neon signs have a powerful advertising impact. However, they started to wonder at the wastage while looking at a blank advertising sign shining brightly.

“It is understandable that businessmen want to have better exposure by having an advertisement. But is there a need to switch on all the lights?” Ms Yu asks, while looking at a building in Mong Kok, which has about 70 lights shining brightly. When the tour gets moving again, there is discussion about Hong Kong’s well-worn image as the sparkling, brightly-lit Pearl of the Orient.

“I think that image is a construction, because there are lots of lights shining across the harbour,” says Mr Leung, the social work student, who plans to bring a friend on a Nathan Road tour.

“But I believe it is not necessary for this to be the image of Hong Kong. It can be something else. We have to think about it,” he adds, to general agreement.

Government Should Raise Energy-Saving Awareness

Updated on Jul 20, 2008 – SCMP

Neon lights and bright advertising signs are what give tourist districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui their distinct character. Visitors are dazzled by the lights. But understandably, many people who live in these places feel differently about the heat they generate and the light that shines into their homes at night. Light pollution is not comparable to air pollution in terms of the direct health risks it poses to the public. Nevertheless, it is increasingly commanding attention because of the serious nuisance it causes to residents.

It also has a direct link to air pollution and energy wastage. Government figures from last year show that between 1997 and 2004, total energy consumption jumped by 25 per cent even though our population only increased by 4.3 per cent during the period. Now, the government is handing out HK$3,600 to 2.4 million households to subsidise electricity bills. While this provides help to the needy, many families that will benefit are affluent and do not need the money. Furthermore, the exercise will spur people to use more electricity. People will feel freer to turn on lights and keep them on for longer – in short, more energy consumption, more burning of coal from our two power companies and, therefore, more pollution.

Green group Friends of the Earth has been calling attention to the problem of light pollution. This includes taking people on tours along Nathan Road to see for themselves the extent of the problem. This is a valuable public service because there is a need to educate people and raise awareness. With such efforts, there have also been calls for legislation. But the legislative route should only be pursued when there is an overwhelming public interest at stake. It is not clear this is the case. Businesses require signs to attract customers at night, and whether a sign is too bright is usually a subjective judgment. Nathan Road, in any case, would not be what it is without the cacophony of noise and light. The way forward should be for the government to step up campaigns to tell people and businesses not to be wasteful with excessive lights. It certainly has an educational responsibility to encourage the public to conserve energy after deciding to dole out its ill-advised electricity subsidy.

Hong Kong’s Nightly Neon Blaze

City needs more enlightened approach to nightly neon blaze

Updated on Jun 21, 2008 – SCMP

The brighter the lights in our city and the longer they shine, the hotter and dirtier it will become. Excessive use of lighting for shops, advertising billboards and building decorations is fast becoming the norm, creating a new kind of pollution, known as light pollution. This affects the view of the night sky; it wastes energy; adds more pollution to our atmosphere; and creates a light nuisance that affects the daily life of some residents.

According to government figures, our per capita average consumption of electricity on lighting alone increased by 10 per cent between 1997 and 2005, while the population increase for the same period was only 4.9 per cent. This points to the wasteful and exaggerated manner we now light the so-called Pearl of the Orient and, as a direct result, we are covering it with a layer of smog for most of the time.

Any evening stroll along either Nathan Road or in Causeway Bay, the busiest nighttime shopping areas in Hong Kong, will demonstrate this: extreme brightness of lighting for billboards, shops and building decorations – to the extent that some of them even shine throughout the entire night when most of us are sleeping. Readings at street level under some illuminated billboards are equivalent to a fine day, or three times as bright as Sha Tin Racecourse during evening races.

Currently with no legislation to prevent light pollution and light nuisance, if your bedroom is lit at night by an outdoor advertising spotlight, any complaint to the government will get you nothing but frustration.

Friends of the Earth (HK) recently launched the Dim it 6.21 Lights Out campaign, which aims to persuade each of us to conserve energy by taking small steps in the home or workplace. Switching off the lights in the city for an hour won’t achieve great savings, even with support involving 100 buildings and billboards. However, we want to spread a clear message to all sectors of the community that this city has been wasting a lot of energy.

There will be a Lights Out evening show at Chater Garden, Central, tonight, from 8pm, with various kinds of performance to promote the Lights Out theme. All are welcome.

Edwin Lau, director, Friends of the Earth

Nathan Road Tours To Expose Lighting Abuses

Green group says it will show visitors the wasteful use of garish signs by businesses

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on May 13, 2008

A green group is organising tours along bustling Nathan Road to expose what it says is the city’s abuse of, and obsession with, lighting.

The tours aim to challenge the common perception that the colourful neon signs and commercial lights are a sign of prosperity and affluence.

It is part of the group’s campaign against light pollution in Hong Kong.

A lights-out event will be held on June 21 and so far, 38 buildings, including iconic ones in Central, have agreed to join.

Organiser Friends of the Earth said the tours, starting on June 6, would target locals and visitors from the mainland and Taiwan. The group has written to the Travel Industry Council asking for co-operation.

Tour participants will be led to 10 spots along Nathan Road that the group says represent the city’s distorted lighting culture, which wastes energy and disturbs residents’ lives.

A survey by the group found 1,693 neon signs hanging from exterior walls and commercial displays using spotlighting along the 3.6km road from Tsim Sha Tsui to Boundary Street. Eleven sites had at least 20 spotlights, with one in Cheong Hing Plaza, Prince Edward, having 76. Some were near residences but remained switched on at 4am.

Some outlets selling luxury goods were lit up well after closing for the day, when there were no shoppers around.

The group said people on the free tours would see a jewellery retailer’s neon sign in Jordan that changed and flashed 21 times a minute, some blank advertisement boards lit by rows of spotlights, and overlapping neon signs fighting for shoppers’ attention in Mong Kok.

The green group’s environmental affairs manager, Hahn Chu Hon-keung, said Friends of the Earth was not totally against neon signs and commercial lighting, but there was room to minimise their impact on residents and the environment.

“These spotlights and flashing neon signs are proliferating, but there is a vacuum of rules governing them. This is a problem we cannot afford to ignore,” he said.

Edward Ng Yan-yung, a professor of architecture at Chinese University, said Hong Kong should consider enacting a master plan tailored to various land uses and limit the brightness of individual neon signs and commercial lighting.

He said overseas countries allowed only important landmarks such as government buildings or historic architecture to be lit with spotlights.

“We are definitely not against lighting,” Professor Ng said. “But it seems that we are about to enter a vicious cycle where people are competing against each other on the brightness level and the public is being forced to adapt to brighter and brighter lights.”

He said lights could still have a visual impact even if they were dimmed, as long as there was a contrast between light and dark.

Professor Ng warned that if the trend continued, Hong Kong would not just be over-lit, it would aggravate the urban heat-island effect.