Roadworks threaten landmark banyan tree

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2002, 12:00am

A century-old banyan tree growing on a slope in Tsim Sha Tsui could be uprooted as part of a road-widening plan being considered by the government to help boost tourism.

The tree, which has its roots deep in rocks, is on the entrance of a ramp leading to the former Marine Police base at the junction of Salisbury and Canton roads.

The Victorian colonial-style base will be conserved and tendered out next month for commercial development. But the ramp, which is also the only access to the complex, will be demolished upon completion of the development.

The demolition will provide a space at least 5.5 metres in width for expanding Canton Road near the Ocean Centre from two to three lanes and for the provision of a three-metre wide footpath for pedestrians.

Transport officials admitted that the tree might be growing too close to the proposed area for widening and they had been thinking of ways to avoid uprooting it.

'We are aware of the tree there and we will seek experts' advice on how to handle it when we proceed with the project,' said Edmond Fok Wai-kin, senior engineer of the Transport Department, adding that relocating the tree could be one of the options.

It is understood that the widening of Canton Road is a key component of a traffic re-routing plan under study to boost tourism in the area.

The government is considering relocating the bus terminus near the Star Ferry pier and turning it into a traffic-free focal point for a continuous waterfront promenade.

If the proposal is endorsed, Canton Road will become the nearest vehicular access to the Star Ferry area and traffic will be heavier. To ease the volume of vehicles, part of Salisbury Road will become one-way for westbound traffic.

Conservationists, however, oppose the road-widening project, saying it is a 'self-defeating' proposal to boost tourism by damaging the natural and cultural heritage.

They say the Marine Police base, together with its historic granite retaining walls and the banyan tree, should be protected.

'There are only a few banyan trees of that size growing from walls in Hong Kong. There used to be a number of these trees on the retaining wall of the ramp. But they have all been cut for unknown reasons,' said Professor Jim Chi-yung, chair of the Geography Department at the University of Hong Kong. He added that the tree was a magnificent landmark.

Conservationists have also expressed disappointment at the development of a high-rise commercial tower in Peking Road which threatens the growth of several large banyan trees.

A spokeswoman for the Tourism Commission said the ramp was a substandard road that needed improvement and the demolition would help improve traffic flow in the area.

She said the successful bidder for the marine base, to be decided early next year, might be asked to provide a new access road.