Arts hub's green park may be pruned
The 5,000 trees proposed for the 19-hectare waterfront park in the West Kowloon art hub might be reduced by half a hectare, according to consultants.
They say the site cannot fully accommodate the greenery in the design by architect Norman Foster.
The hitch is the West Harbour Tunnel, according to the team of consultants involved in the park's final planning. The area above the tunnel entrance, about 5,000 square metres, isn't suitable for trees, they say. Instead, they recommend planting grass.
Many Hongkongers fell for the urban park in Foster's concept plan and its echoes of Central Park in New York.
The design team originally proposed planting more than 5,000 trees at the western tip of the cultural district to provide shade for visitors and space for open-air performances.
But the arts hub authority told Harbourfront Commission members in May that the park might not look exactly the same as the artist's impression presented to the public.
'The authority will engage consultants to start planting trees and do other landscaping works on the project site. However, it might not be possible to plant as many trees as shown in the Foster + Partners' conceptual plan, especially above the Western Harbour Tunnel area,' Bonny Wong, director of the authority's chief executive's office, said in response to a member's suggestion that trees be planted early.
The change was revealed in minutes of a meeting that are yet to be released to the public.
A consultant working on the design told the South China Morning Post that the portal of the Western Harbour Tunnel posed a constraint to tree planting.
The consultant said: 'The area above the portal cannot support heavy materials like thick soil, so the number of trees that can be planted in the area is limited.'
The consultant added: 'Planting grass is a good solution as the area is slanted, allowing people lie down and enjoy sea view.' He said planting 5,000 trees for the park might not be the best idea.
'In fact, 3,000 trees will be enough if we allow space for large trees to grow. A large park should have large trees,' the consultant said. 'We can still plant 5,000 trees but little room will limit the growth of tree crowns, reducing shade areas.'
A nursery of about five hectares is now being planned on site and is expected to be in operation before the rainy season next year.
The nursery will allow early planting of trees imported from the mainland, which can grow bigger in the following two years before the park is officially open by 2014. The nursery would serve as a way to select species adaptable to the harbour environment.
According to preliminary planning, most of the trees used on the site will be local species and of standard size, with trunks about 8cm in diameter and three metres tall on average. In five to 10 years, they might grow over 12 metres tall.
Over 30 species are under consideration, including native species such as the incense tree, camphor tree, spider tree and big-leaved fig, which smell good, have beautiful flowers and attract local insects and birds that will enhance the local ecosystem, planners said. Colourful foreign species such as the cotton tree, flame tree and African tulip tree are also being considered.
'Frankly, we are under immense pressure, as the park shown by Foster has already reached the mature stage, just like what we see in New York's Central Park. We need to plant earlier to address the public concern,' the consultant said, noting local species grow more slowly.
Jim Chi-yung, a tree specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said local and overseas experience had shown that trees of small to medium size could still grow on thin soil of about one metre deep. A good example was an underground sports centre in Japan, which the Osaka government turned into a green park. 'So it's technically feasible to plant trees over the tunnel. It's all about determination,' Jim said. He said replacing a small number of trees with grass was a good alternative.
The budget, in Hong Kong dollars, set aside for the arts hub. But it is predicted that a 20 per cent rise in costs could leave it HK$6.4b short