Old banyan among 21 trees threatened by redevelopment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 September, 2009, 12:00am

Conservationists and residents in Kwun Tong have raised concerns about an urban renewal plan that threatens 21 trees, including a large banyan.

Under the plan, a bus terminus at Yuet Wah Street is making way for a clinic and residential block. There is a large banyan on the site, which a botanist estimates is about 40 years old, along with 20 other trees.

An Urban Renewal Authority spokesman said some of the trees had to be moved, including the banyan, because of the design plans.

Conservationists are calling on the URA and the developers to show flexibility in the planning and do what they can to ensure the area keeps its leafy coverage.

'These trees all stand on the edge of the site, which can be easily preserved with design and some care,' Green Sense spokesman Roy Tam Hoi-pong said.

Nearby to the south, Yue Man Square is also being cleared of small, rundown buildings and will be replaced by four residential towers and a commercial building. Old and valuable trees at that site, however, are being preserved.

Green Sense had spoken with three of 14 developers interested in the Yuet Wah Street project, and one said it was willing to leave the banyan tree where it was.

That may not be possible, however. The banyan blocks what would be the entrance to the clinic, the URA spokesman added. It was possible to accommodate the tree in the final design, though this was not certain.

A spokesman said the project's tender document specified which trees were to be transplanted, and it included the banyan. The developer would need to come up with a tree-management plan. The banyan would be temporarily planted in a nursery bed and then transplanted to the main site when it was cleared.

Even though the URA said yesterday that there was a plan to relocate the banyan, Tam said it would cost millions of dollars. And the tree could still be damaged.

Professor Jim Chi-yung, a tree expert at University of Hong Kong, said transplanting the tree twice would pose more risk to its survival.

'On-site preservation is always the best option, but if this is impossible, phased root-pruning should take place now in order to give the tree enough time for recovery,' the professor said.

'There should not be a midway stop in transplantation.'

Au Yeung Kim-wai, a resident on Yuet Wah Street, said the big tree could provide shade for people and should be allowed to stay because there were very few trees in the Kwun Tong district.