Green activists see red over felling of iconic wall tree in Wan Chai

Giant wall tree in Wan Chai chopped to make way for Hopewell hotel

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 4:56pm

Green activists are mourning the loss of a giant wall banyan tree in Wan Chai that has been chopped down to make way for a hotel development by the Hopewell group.

The tree, which was estimated to be about 80 years old, was a well-known feature of the area.

But like hundreds of other trees nearby, it lay in the way of building plans for Hopewell Centre II, a HK$5 billion development that includes a 55-storey hotel with over 1,000 rooms.

At the Ship Street site where the banyan tree once stood 15 metres tall, all that is left are the remains of its buttresses, sprawled across a stone wall.

Professor Jim Chi-yung, a tree specialist from the University of Hong Kong's department of geography, expressed his anger over the chopping of the tree, describing the act as "uncivilised".

"The tree was no doubt a part of our culture and heritage, and chopping it off only confirms how uncivilised Hong Kong is," he said. The professor said the developer should have preserved the tree along with the stone wall it was attached to. The tree and the wall were together regarded one of the city's "top 10 must-see wall trees", he said.

A Hopewell spokesman said yesterday that its tree-removal plan had been approved by the government in August. It said the wall trees could not be retained as they were located in the centre of the development.

In November 2008, Hopewell, controlled by tycoon Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, pledged to spend HK$20 million on a "comprehensive tree conservation and transplantation programme".

It said there were about 510 trees at the site, including 12 wall trees, and it would invite experts to assess how to conserve or transplant the value ones.

But Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin said he could not see how the wall trees could be transplanted.

They were destined to be cut as a large platform had to be built on the slope under an approved government plan, he said.

"It is really a pity to see them go. The area is almost the only remaining and coherent green belt in Wan Chai," So said.

"No matter how many trees are replanted after the development, the area will be changed forever. After all, a park is definitely different from a green belt."

Other mature wall trees are found in Wan Chai, Central, Western and Sham Shui Po.