Role of tree management office needs clarifying

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am

This city has not long had a layer of bureaucracy costing about HK$19 million a year to manage and co-ordinate the care of our trees. Ironically, it was hoped that it would afford some protection from red tape hindering care of our remaining old trees in urban areas. That's because about 10 different authorities can have a say over trees, depending on the circumstances, and such confusion can lead to neglect or loss of natural heritage to development.

It sounds like a good idea. But it has not saved several Chinese banyan trees growing on a stone wall of the old married police quarters in Hollywood Road, and earmarked for preservation during redevelopment, from having their aerial roots trussed up in bunches with string.

Experts say this could be harmful to their health and make them unstable. More worryingly, the Development Bureau says the decision to tie up the roots was made after a single complaint by someone who claimed they were obstructing people walking down the street.

When there is no evidence that the tree roots trouble anyone else, out of countless passersby in a busy street every day, you would not normally expect an isolated complaint about public inconvenience to get so far. The role of the tree management office remains unclear and the bureau declines to say which department made the decision.

The office was set up in the Development Bureau in the wake of an inquest into the death of a young woman when an old tree fell on her in the main street in Stanley. It is supposed to provide a stronger management system, co-ordinated with a greening strategy for the city. That said, it is good that the Development Bureau says the office is now doing its job, and working with the heritage commissioner to consult tree experts on how the roots should be dealt with.

The government should also clarify the office's position, make a permanent appointment in place of an acting head manager, and ensure that its role is not usurped.