Q How can Hong Kong better protect its heritage?
During the holidays I visited Tung Loong Island and had the opportunity to see some historical rock carvings. Something that struck me initially was that a great deal of effort had been made to allow people to visit an obscure site by building some 500 or so steps solely to see the carvings.
What made the greatest impression on me, however, was a plaque announcing that these carvings were protected and had been declared monuments under legislation enacted in the 1970s.
Why were the Star Ferry and Queen's piers not protected under this ordinance? Surely, Queen's Pier, the site of the departure of the last governor of Hong Kong which signalled a new era for the city and the Star Ferry pier which for decades has provided the most affordable, convenient and scenic means to crossing the harbour, were of sufficient significance to warrant not only their protection but additional allocation of resources to ensure their upkeep.
Instead, a highway, which will do little to enhance the site that has been the subject of so many idyllic postcards, will be built. In addition to a shopping centre, whose prime location ensures that only generic super-brands will be able to afford the rent and at which less than 5 per cent of the population will be able to afford to shop.
The closure of both piers not only represents a failure of the Antiquities and Monuments Office arising from an inability to protect the monument, but a failure of the government.
The government has missed yet another opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with its population.
Tsang Wai-yin, Pok Fu Lam
Q What do you think of the proposed new sewage charges?
The government's proposal to raise sewage charges continuously over the next 10 years is a welcome move. The application of a polluter-pays principle helps remind people to watch their pockets before turning on the water taps unnecessarily.
But it is bad news for heavy users such as the catering industry or industries that have huge water consumption. The proposed increase will certainly pose a threat to these industries, given the recent surge in rents, staff costs and electricity fees on Hong Kong Island.
To improve water quality, we may change the polluter-pays principle to 'polluter pays and saves' principle. 'Polluter saves' doesn't simply mean paying less with less consumption under the proposed new sewage charge, but means enjoying a bonus if someone consumes less water compared with the previous season. The bonus can either be a proportionate decrease in rates or a cash reward. It also can be a return to an old rate benchmarked at a particular year.
Conservation can be achieved through an aggressive increase in sewage charges, but it can also be achieved by innovative strategies to encourage people to consume less water. Otherwise, the proposed increase is nothing but a virtual green tax.
Philip Keung, Kwun Tong
The major source of sea water pollution these days is from untreated sewage discharged into the harbour from properties on Hong Kong Island. These property owners should pay higher sewage charges than those in Kowloon or the New Territories to cover the costs of the tunnels and other infrastructure needed for treating this waste.
This would be fair because property owners north of Boundary Street are for historical reasons paying an additional 3 per cent government rent on the rateable value of their properties. This would eliminate the inequitable differences of our quarterly rates bills and provide the funding needed for the sewage treatment plants.
P.A. Crush, Sha Tin
Q What can be done to help vulnerable young people?
Vulnerability is a product of interaction between other people's comments and our own perception and cognition. We can help young people by paying positive regard to them. This may help to clear young people to take action to realise their ideal selves and enhance their self-image.
Young people can also help themselves by being more controlled and less automatic in forming opinions about what happens to them. Don't automatically put yourselves at the receiving end of your boss' frowns. Don't overgeneralise a failure in one specific event to all domains of your life. This is an incessant process that can only be activated by ourselves.
Catherine Pang, Tuen Mun
On other matters ...
It was heartening to learn that 39 government gardeners, threatened with losing their jobs, will have their contracts renewed until the end of next year ('Department has change of heart on gardeners' fate', City, December 28).
Despite the fact that their work has been outsourced, this is an ideal opportunity for our administration to grasp the initiative now and enhance our living (and breathing) environment.
My suggestion would be for gardeners to be trained to a professional level, formed into a tree protection squad and retained in the government service. Coupled with new, appropriate regulations, they would be solely responsible for directing and managing our 'outsourced' pruning and future care of Hong Kong's urban trees.
Having just witnessed the apparent ad hoc 'trimming' of another fine old tree in Robinson Road, something should be done to preserve our natural heritage. Trees provide shade, beauty, purify the air and offer birds a sanctuary.
Adjustment to older trees, particularly for repairing damage and fighting disease, is called tree surgery. It should not be left to cowboys, estate management companies or property developers.
One basic lesson to be learned is how a tree heals. To quote Hugh Johnson's International Book of Trees: 'Bark will grow over a flat, clean cut flush with the trunk - but a tree cannot heal a stump. A stump is the royal road for rot, bugs, disease and death. It is vital to paint the cut with tree paint, a tarry substance containing a fungicide.
'All wounds on trees, and certainly all wounds over one inch in diameter, should be dressed like this. Big wounds, over which it will take bark several years to grow, should be painted again every year or two.'
Viewing the recent arboreal destruction in Robinson Road, this particular tree will probably be dead in a couple of years. No doubt its other old friends in the vicinity will share the same fate.
Graham Warburton, Mid-Levels