Banyans to move in $1m project

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am

TWO stately banyan trees are to be transplanted in a costly operation to save them from the axe under the Happy Valley racecourse expansion plans.

The Royal Hongkong Jockey Club has agreed to transplant the trees, which are between 80 and 150 years old, and the Wan Chai District Lands Office will recommend to the Government that this be a condition for the club's $741 million plans to go ahead.

Strict conditions on the timing of the transplant and the possible inclusion of other nearby trees could also figure in the Government's approval.

The decision to move the trees was made in the wake of eight formal objections being filed last year, over proposed changes to Sports Road, where the trees are located and which would be absorbed into the expanded racetrack.

All the objections were from the public and concerned the trees, with some demanding efforts be made to transplant them and others saying they should not be moved at all.

A senior estate surveyor with Wan Chai District Lands Office, Mr Frank Phillips, is overseeing the proposal for the Government and said the Jockey Club reported in January that the trees could be moved, but it would not be easy.

The transplant will be the first for such large trees in Hongkong, and the first for trees of this age.

The Jockey Club's chief engineer and project controller, Mr John Halliday, said the cost was still being worked out but would be at least $1 million.

There was no guarantee the transplant would succeed, but Mr Halliday said he believed the trees were hardy and should survive the move.

The transplant will involve complex engineering work to trim the banyans' 50-metre to 60-metre roots and about one-third of their branches will be lopped off.

The trees will then be dragged along trenches to new sites about 50 metres away on Wong Nei Chung Road, and special winches will lay the 100-tonne trees in place.

A survey of the trees was carried out by Professor Alun Griffiths of Hongkong University, who said there was a 70 per cent success rate elsewhere in moving banyans, although it had never been tried on banyans as old as these.

Preparatory root and branch trimming was the key to the transplant's success and Mr Phillips said this could be stipulated if the project was approved.

The Jockey Club's landscape consultant for the project, Mr Michael Kirkbride, said it was possible to do the work in 18 months to 20 months - the maximum time the club can allow if it is to open the expanded track in October 1995 as planned.

But Professor Griffiths made his recommendations based on a 24-month period and Mr Phillips said this time scale might be made to stick depending on the advice he will receive shortly from government landscape architects.

Some objectors wanted the transplant expanded to include some of the 49 other Sports Road trees which are scheduled to be axed. Mr Phillips said this could also be a condition, depending on advice from the landscapers.

A final recommendation will be made over the next month and go to either the Executive Council, if the eight objections are not withdrawn, or to the Secretary for Transport. But the same action would be recommended, he said.

The Jockey Club has already let a contract for the expansion work to French firm Dragages, even though it has not received final approval on the project.