Club to replace trees it felled without permission

Victoria Recreation Club promises to find trees of a similar size and age to those removed from its Sai Kung site

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 2:57am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 6:00pm

Hong Kong's oldest private club has pledged to replant trees it recently cut down after the felling was found to have violated its land lease.

Victoria Recreation Club said it would plant trees of the same species and similar age to those it removed from its Sai Kung site.

"My understanding is that it would be like-for-like," general manager Craig Nortje said yesterday, four days after the South China Morning Post's report on the removal of a dozen trees in the club area.

He expected the replanting would be done by the end of this year, after completion of maintenance works on a slope in the club grounds. He could not say at this stage how many trees and what species had been removed.

While a member of the club complained that they were chopped down for no clear reason, the club said the trees were felled on "safety grounds".

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

A Lands Department spokesman confirmed on Thursday that a land lease condition requires the club to ask permission from the department's director before felling any tree. No such request was received. The spokesman said the department was awaiting an explanation.

Asked whether the club would be fined or whether the site would be resumed by the government, the department said it could not reveal details of the land lease agreement, including any penalties for unauthorised tree felling.

Nortje, who started working for the club in mid-November, said the club had not realised the removal would violate the lease.

"I'm the first general manager for the club and it is now looking into the tree survey done earlier," he said. "We will come up with a compensation plan."

An administrator of the club told the Post on Tuesday that it had hired consultants to inspect the trees and decide which ones had to be cut back or felled on safety grounds. The decision was approved by the club's management committee.

The club, established in 1849 on the site now occupied by City Hall, holds the Sai Kung site - which it was granted in the early 1950s - on a 99-year government lease at a rent of HK$100 a year. It also has a site in Deep Water Bay.

Previous penalties for removing trees without permission have varied.

The Canossa Hospital in Mid-Levels was fined HK$200,000 by the Lands Department in 2010 for unauthorised pruning of a tree that obstructed work on a new extension. A landscaping firm working at Leung King Estate, Tuen Mun, was told to replant some of the 200 trees it damaged by heavy pruning in 2006.