Common services tunnel would help officials look after tree roots
The government has known since 2010 that the banyan tree at Nathan Road was infected but found the work so complicated that no significant action was taken until it fell ('5 injured by falling tree on TST's 'golden mile'', July 20). Pedestrians needed hospital care, and property and Hong Kong's tourism reputation have been damaged.
The complication which delayed taking the action needed - enlarging the planters - was the presence of wires and pipes from eight different organisations.
Under Hong Kong's established procedure of sharing underground space, each organisation would need to open up the road by itself, complete the works and reinstate the road before handing over to the next team. Not only does this result in the nuisance of repetitive opening up of pavements and roads, it makes it difficult to beautify Hong Kong, and maintain trees.
The government should build common services tunnels shared by different operators to run their cables and wires. In Singapore a separate compartment is used for water pipes, and gas pipes are kept at a safe distance.
The perceived difficulty is that this requires a department to be responsible for management and maintenance, and for obtaining approval for public funds. The 'everyone for themselves' practice has its benefits. It is flexible, minimises procedures, liability is easily established, and all expenses are borne by utility providers who recover the costs from the fees charged to customers. If we change this practice, we should focus on areas where there is enough space to do so, where there are few utilities underground, or areas which are popular with locals and international visitors.
The Park Lane trees are along the only stretch of road where we come a little closer to the splendour of Singapore's or Paris' streetscape. The area is popular with tourists and the pavement is wide enough for the government to install a common services tunnel to manage utilities and create more space for tree roots.
I'm not optimistic though. Unlike Marina Bay in Singapore where common services tunnels are laid throughout, the Kai Tak development, described as green and state of the art, and with hardly any existing utilities underground, will follow the same old practice of 'everyone for themselves'.
Let's hope Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will focus on these details, to improve quality of life, and now it appears, to safeguard the safety of our visitors.
Paul Zimmerman, chief executive, Designing Hong Kong Limited