Neighbours have counted at least 50 being destroyed 'to let in light' at the Beacon Hill project in Kowloon Tong Dozens of important mature trees have been chopped down on a Kowloon Tong building site owned by developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) in what an academic says is the worst environmental destruction he has seen. In the past two weeks, neighbours have counted 50 trees being cut down and others destroyed. On Saturday, after Cheung Kong received a warning letter from the District Lands Department following public complaints, their contractor was spotted hastily planting saplings and two mature trees as replacements. Many of the trees on the site of the luxury One Beacon Hill development are more than 50 years old and over 25 metres tall. 'It was a beautiful wall of high greenery,' said Alan Goldstein, who lives next to the site. The Lands Department told the site manager to stop work for an inspection, but work continued. When the South China Morning Post visited on Wednesday the scene was one of devastation. But the site manager, Lui Chun-wing, denied that 50 trees had been chopped down. 'My staff tell me they pulled down no trees,' he said. 'I don't know how they disappeared.' The site, which used to be the British Forces Kowloon Tsai, or Pilgrim's Way, married quarters, had 1,000 mature trees including mimosa, South China cotton trees, Indian gum trees and many ornamental species when Cheung Kong paid $3.4 billion for it three years ago. On the Ede Road side, leafless dying trees now line the perimeter, their severed roots exposed where a concrete-lined trench has been gouged for the foundations of a 3.5m wall. The roots have been cut just 1.5 metres from the tree. Elsewhere branches have been crudely sawn off and trunks damaged. 'This is the worst case I have ever seen. It's horrible,' said Jim Chi-yung, chair professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong. 'These trees have been very, very badly treated. They will never be able to recover. These were such important trees: probably the last piece of a 'green finger' protruding into Kowloon.' But establishing which trees were earmarked for lawful felling and which were for saving is another matter. Sandy Paton, an assistant director of the Lands Department, said the Post could not see the original tree survey plan approved by his department. It was the developer's property and confidential, he said. Asked if this was a cosy arrangement between the developer and the Lands Department with the public excluded, he replied: 'It's a private document. You can call it cosy if you like.' He said Cheung Kong had approval to cut down 300 trees and replant 800 on the site. Mr Goldstein said: 'A property agent told us that the trees were probably removed to allow light into the lower-floor flats.' He said the lopped trees obviously were protected or they would have just chopped them down. In a letter to the Lands Department on behalf of the owners of Beacon Hill Court, which overlooks the site, he wrote: 'We have the distinct feeling that your department does not care about what has happened and it seems to be hiding behind a wall of confidentiality. 'We feel that from our conversations with you that your department has an extremely close relationship with the contractor, one which may be construed to be inappropriate.' Asked how the tree destruction had been allowed to happen, Mr Paton said that while his department's duty was to police construction sites, his staff were too busy to check up on developers. Complaints were made about the trees' condition two months ago. 'We wrote to the developer in May to draw attention to the complaints - we were not 100 per cent happy,' Mr Paton said. In short, he said, the Lands Department expected the developer to stick to the rules. Cheung Kong's chief corporate affairs officer, Wendy Tong Barnes, said in a faxed response: 'All tree planting and tree removal plans pertaining to One Beacon Hill have been approved by the Lands Department. Replanting could be part of these plans but compliance for all laws and regulations have been fulfilled.' This was after Cheung Kong had received warnings from the Lands Department and had tried to replace the felled trees on Saturday. May Leung, of the District Lands Office, wrote to the owners of Beacon Hill Court on Thursday. 'A number of the trees were found dead on site and the remaining trees were not properly protected. Also, some trees were found seriously damaged as reported by your Mr Goldstein,' she wrote. A warning letter had been issued to the lot owner, reminding him to ensure the trees were protected. If Cheung Kong was found to have killed the trees, they would be forced to replant and face a fine. Professor Jim said: 'This kind of developer has so much money they don't care - anyway, by then the tree is dead.'