Hotline on risky trees is in demand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am


When the government established a telephone hotline for complaints about dangerous trees last year, it could hardly have expected such a deluge. More than 8,900 complaints have flooded in.

They range from the trivial - branches blocking the view from a flat - to serious worries that a tree might fall down. They are all checked out by various government departments, said Kieran O'Neill, who heads the government's landscape and tree management team in the Development Bureau.

O'Neill, the bureau's principal assistant secretary, is a landscape architect whose duty is to tackle the problem of falling trees and branches, and to improve the urban environment by adding greenery.

Of the 8,940 complaints received, 7,589 came through the hotline set up in April last year to address public concerns about falling trees.

The rest were complaints to the Tree Management Office, targeting the government's failure to address earlier complaints.

The office was set up after a falling tree in Stanley killed a 19-year-old student in 2008. Another falling tree struck and killed a man who was cycling in Sha Tin in 2010.

In one case, the office received a complaint about a banyan tree straddling two private lots and a piece of government land in Kowloon. One of the landowners wanted the healthy tree removed and the other wanted it kept. The office eventually recommended monitoring the tree closely and pruning it regularly to ease the weight of its branches.

O'Neill said a tree database listing the condition of trees at busy locations would go into operation in March, to strengthen the monitoring efforts of nine government departments. There are about 1.5 million trees in the city's urban areas, but the government only monitors those growing in areas with busy traffic.

The Development Bureau will map out landscape attractions and special trees found in each urban area of all 18 districts by the second quarter of this year. The public can get the information by clicking an iPhone application or surfing the bureau's website.

O'Neill said the new content was meant to promote public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of open spaces and trees.

'It is not about how many trees we have planted, it's about the quality as well,' he said, citing New York's High Line park as an example of greenery that is highly appreciated by the general public.

High Line, a green public park that is accessible by wheelchairs, was built on a disused freight railway elevated above the streets in Manhattan's West Side. Owned by the City of New York, it is maintained and operated by residents.

O'Neill did not say if the Development Bureau planned to set up a licensing system for tree contractors and arborists to ensure they meet certain standards, as lawmakers have suggested.

But Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in June last year that the government would seriously consider beginning a study into introducing a bill about trees, after lawmakers unanimously passed a motion urging the government to enact a tree ordinance and set up a centralised body to oversee tree management.


The approximate number of certified arborists in the city

- There were 30 in 2005

- About 180 work for the government