Private Sai Kung club accused by member of felling healthy trees

Victoria Recreation Club member hits out at bosses for making a mess of greenery at its Sai Kung site - and possible breaching its lease

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 10:02pm

Hong Kong's oldest private club has been accused of making a mess of the "lush greenery" at its Sai Kung base by carelessly chopping back and cutting down healthy trees.

A member of the Victoria Recreation Club said dozens of trees had been "chopped or felled for no clear reason by the club's management", and questioned whether the body, which describes itself as the "father of all sporting clubs", had the legal or moral right to cut or fell the trees. The club claims the chopping was done on safety grounds, but the Lands Department said it was looking into whether the club was in breach of its land lease after a complaint by the member.

A visit by the Post to the clubhouse in Emerald Bay, Tai Mong Tsai, yesterday revealed that several orchid and Taiwanese acacia trees - some mature, some young - had been cut down. Others had branches chopped off.

"Since the beginning of [last] year, the management has been chopping down tree after tree, some of which are more than 100 years old," said the member, who asked to remain anonymous. "This is a private club built on leased government land so these trees belong to the public and the environment … they cannot just keep chopping down trees without restraint."

The member said the club had hired a private landscaping contractor to cut back or fell unsafe trees three years ago, but he had not complained because the work was done professionally.

But the work last year saw logs and branches scattered in piles around the garden, he said. Some were subsequently burned.

"They were trying to get rid of the evidence," the member said.

But the club said yesterday that it had hired consultants to inspect the trees and decide which ones had to be cut back or felled on safety grounds. "The club management committee approved the felling of trees … An inspection showed the trees were not safe and had to be cut down or trimmed," an administrator for the club said. The general manager of the Sai Kung clubhouse, Craig Nortje, could not be reached for comment.

The club, established in 1849, holds the Sai Kung site on a 99-year government lease at a rent of HK$100 per annum.

On its website, the club describes the Sai Kung location as offering 1.4 hectares of "lush greenery overlooking an idyllic bay" and an ideal venue for water sports including kayaking, rowing and dragon-boat racing. It has a second clubhouse at Deep Water Bay.

The Lands Department said it was looking into the case to see whether cutting back or felling trees in the area is in breach of the club's land lease.

According to some land lease conditions, any removing or felling of trees must first be approved by the director of lands.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had no jurisdiction over the management of trees on private land, but had sent staff to inspect the area.