Two banyan trees outside one of Hong Kong's 'greenest' building sites are anything but, after contractors illicitly topped most of their emerald-bedecked branches. When it was announced in January 2008, The Tamar Development Project in Central was billed as 'one of the government's 'greenest' complexes.' Yet today, the naked trees stand out against the sunflower-laden billboards touting the project's environmentally conscious construction. The builders at the Tamar Development Project in Central hacked the trees back without government authorisation, according to a Development Bureau spokeswoman. Contractors are required to apply to the District Lands office before pruning, felling or transplanting trees. In this case, the government never received an application from site contractors, Gammon-Hip Hing Joint Venture and Pegasus Greenland Ltd, according to the bureau spokeswoman. After citizen complaints and a government inquiry, Gammon-Hip Hing Joint Venture told officials that its landscape subcontractor, Pegasus, discovered dead branches on the two trees and decided to prune them to improve their health and ensure public safety considerations. Contractors are required to comply with government guidelines on tree pruning, which describe the types of pruning, safety measures and pruning techniques to deal with diseased or decayed branches, which may pose a health or safety hazard. If trees are found to be affected by disease and/or pests, government workers and contractors are supposed to apply 'appropriate treatment to make them recover'. But in the case of the Tamar banyans, 'I would call it vandalism rather than tree care,' said Jim Chi-yung, chair professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong. 'This kind of chainsaw cutting can be done in a matter of minutes. If you do it the proper way, it may take half a day or more to do one tree,' Jim explained. 'It's like going to a barber shop. The barber can cut it all off in one go. Or he can use smaller scissors and do it more carefully, with a much better result.' And if dead branches posed a safety hazard before, the chainsaw cutting has only worsened the problem for the future, he said, because the exposed cuts are 'beautiful landing sites' for fungal infections, which cause 90 per cent of tree decay. Banyans can live for a thousand years without difficulty if not mistreated, but an infection can destroy a tree in five to 10 years, Jim said. Banyan trees are a source of spiritual and literary inspiration throughout Asia. Hindus consider the banyan tree sacred and Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment under a ficus religiosa, a relative of the Chinese banyan. The Lam Tsuen wishing trees in the New Territories are also banyans. For Jim and other environmental activists, the Tamar banyans symbolise the dissonance between Hong Kong's environmental policies and its stated 'green' aspirations. For six years, Jim has been asking the government to enact a tree ordinance that he said would more effectively regulate the preservation and care of trees. Tree ordinances are common in North America and Western Europe. In Asia, mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore have enacted similar laws. The issue drew public attention in 2008, when a young woman was killed when a branch from a 100-year-old tree snapped and fell on her in Stanley. A task force headed up by the chief secretary for administration found the existing system 'generally adequate' and that there was 'no need' to introduce a tree ordinance. 'They never learn,' Jim said of government regulators. 'This kind of lopping or topping cannot be accepted, and yet they've continued to do this for years. The government is still silent. It doesn't want to outlaw it.' When the Tamar Project was announced in January 2008, Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang Ying-yen declared that it would be 'one of the government's 'greenest' complexes'. The Tamar plans include solar electricity panels, an automatic refuse collection system, seawater-cooled chiller plants, green roofs and about two hectares of public open space. Melanie Moore, a local resident who reported the Tamar banyan cutting to the government earlier this month, questioned the implementation of those plans. 'They talk about improving the environment and beautifying the area. The reality is that there are these two beautiful banyan trees and someone's gone and chopped all the branches off,' she said. 'Clearly, the vision that they portray in writing is much different than the reality.'