One revered tree to be cut down and others moved from PLA hospital site
By ANDY GILBERT
AN old banyan tree is being cut down to make way for a hospital for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and an expert fears six others may die because insufficient time has been given to prepare them for replanting.
Nine banyan trees are among 130 trees comprising 32 species at the Gun Club Hill Barracks in Austin Road.
The site is being partly cleared for the new hospital, which will replace the British Military Hospital.
The Architectural Services Department has decided to cut down 60 of the trees whose condition is considered too poor for replanting.
A further 51 are to be retained in their present positions and 19 will be replanted.
Of the nine banyan trees, which are considered sacred and worshipped by many Chinese, one is being destroyed, two will be retained in their current positions and six will be replanted.
Three of those trees will be planted nearby and three will possibly go to the Kowloon Walled City Park.
All those facing replanting are being cut back and workers are digging trenches around their roots.
Tree expert Dr Jim Chi-yung, of the University of Hong Kong, said while the Government appeared to be attempting to salvage most of the banyans, a minimum of a year was needed to give them a reasonable chance of survival.
'Unless they are given proper care they will never grow back to what normal banyans look like,' said Dr Jim, who has written a book about Hong Kong's urban trees.
'It is like operating on an old person, they are less likely to recover fully.' Some elderly Chinese turn banyans into shrines and have even adopted them as godfathers to their children because they symbolise health and strength.
Dr Jim said before they were moved, the trees' roots should be gradually cut over a long period, a process he admitted was costly.
But he doubted the trees, some of which he estimated to be about 80 years old, were being given sufficient preparation time.
'In Hong Kong, the timetable of construction comes first,' he said.
The new PLA hospital is being built as part of the defence lands agreement.
The pact took the Joint Liaison Group seven years to negotiate.
As the existing military hospital nearby is being demolished for redevelopment, the Hong Kong Government agreed to build a new one with 120 beds and 40 quarters.
However, the deal was only struck in July, and Dr Jim fears the Government is moving the trees too quickly.
A spokesman for the Architectural Services Department said one tree was being cut down because it was on a slope near a nursery and had been deemed too dangerous to move.
She said the department was taking all the steps it could to preserve the trees, which had to be moved to make way for the construction work.