The biggest developer in Causeway Bay is planning to plant a tree species outside its award-winning mall that is potentially destructive to the local environment.
Tree specialists warned yesterday the seven chukrasia tabularis, or Burmese almond wood, earmarked for Kai Chiu Road may be too large and unsightly for the congested street, and might grow sprawling roots that could push up the pavement.
Hysan Development chose the seven new trees to replace six Elaeocarpus apiculatus it removed with government consent last August, a week after the grand opening of Hysan Place in Causeway Bay.
Ken So Kwok-yin, chief executive of the Conservancy Association, questioned Hysan's choice, as the new species needed large underground space for its roots. "This is a big tree, which grows very fast. It also has strong roots that could eventually spring out and break the pavement surface from beneath," he said. "In a small and congested area like Kai Chiu Road, the species could be a bad choice."
The old trees outside what is now the Apple store in Hysan Place were felled, after being deemed "structurally defective" and in "unsatisfactory health condition".
However, five months after the trees were axed there are still no sign of the controversial replacements.
While Hysan says it hopes to finish the work by April, and is merely waiting for an excavation permit, tree experts noted that the holes left by the old trees had been filled and paved over.
"It is very rare to fill the holes and then excavate again for replanting. I have never seen such an arrangement before," said So, who is a certified arborist.
Professor Jim Chi-yung, a tree specialist from the University of Hong Kong, agreed the churkrasia tabularis was a bad choice, not only structurally but also aesthetically.
"It grows irregularly and therefore has low landscape value.
"In Southern China, this tree is normally planted in industrial areas and places where air pollution is bad," he said.
But Jim said there might not be enough statistical data to suggest the tree's root could damage the pavement.
The original government-owned trees, which were planted in 2007, had been entrusted into Hysan's care by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, during the development of the mall.
But in February 2012, as the mall's construction neared completion, the original six trees had been trimmed and were in very bad shape.
"The developer is required to carry out appropriate measures to protect and maintain the trees," a spokesman for LCSD said.
The spokesman said they had sought advice from the Lands Department before approving the tree removal application from Hysan and the associated replanting proposal.
But it did not say whether Hysan was liable for any penalty or if it had been warned over the poor maintenance of the trees.
In May 2010, Hang Lung Properties was reprimanded by LCSD for having hoardings that could damage the same species of trees outside the firm's property near Yee Wo Street.
"It has set a very bad precedent and sends a wrong signal to others that there is no need to take tree preservation seriously, as you can always resort to removing it without much consequence," So said.
But a Hysan spokesman said: "Felling the trees and getting replacements is the best option to ensure public safety in an area with extremely high pedestrian traffic."
He added that the choice of the tree was mutually agreed upon by Hysan and the government. He also pledged that the trees would be planted roughly in the same locations as before, including the space outside the Apple Store which has giant glass panels facing the road.