Tree inspections must be increased

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 July, 2015, 12:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 July, 2015, 12:59am

Ever since the government set up a special tree office with an annual budget of some HK$20 million, hopes were high that there would be no more casualties caused by falling trees. Unfortunately, tragedies still happen from time to time. The second tree-related accident in three days this week is a sad reminder that tree management by the government still leaves much to be desired.

It was sheer luck that the three victims were not seriously injured when two trees collapsed during heavy downpours. Monday's accident happened right outside the old government's headquarters on Lower Albert Road, injuring a 54-year-old female cleaner. While officials said the 14-metre-high Chinese banyan was found to be healthy during the last inspection in February, an expert said the trunk showed signs of fungal decay. The incident on Bonham Road on Wednesday caused more injuries and damage. The 21-metre-tall Chinese banyan on a stone wall collapsed during a rainstorm and struck a residential block across the road before crashing onto a newspaper vendor and a passer-by.

The Highways Department said the tree, listed in the city's historic tree register, did not show irregularity during inspections last month and in January. The observation does not square with that by another expert, who said repeated road works nearby had damaged the roots and made the tree unstable. The confusion deepens further when the department was said to have suggested removing the tree after health problems had been identified 12 months ago; but officials backed down and settled with fungal treatment following opposition from residents, according to a district councillor.

Given the city's weather and terrain, tree accidents are perhaps inevitable. This is not helped when the Tree Management Office and various departments are not seen as doing enough to reduce the risk. At stake is public safety. Officials should step up inspections on trees in high-risk areas lest more accidents may occur.