image image

Hong Kong environmental issues

Better tree strategy needed until relevant legislation is enacted

The decision to cut down two ailing trees in Mid-Levels opened a war of words between officials and tree experts. This has left the public unable to judge whether the decision was justified or not

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 6:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 6:25am

Whether the two ailing old trees in Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island could have been spared the axe is a question for those with the expertise and authority to answer.

Confusingly, officials and tree experts were locked in a war of words following the removal operation, leaving the public unable to judge whether the decision was justified or not.

The government was adamant that the two 80-year-old banyans on the stone walls on Bonham Road had showed signs of fungus infection and decay and therefore posed safety hazards to the public. But some experts believed the trees could have been saved by the measures rejected by the government.

The outpouring of emotion says something about the city’s attachment to trees.

What’s behind the outcry in Hong Kong over the removal of two old banyan trees?

But when public safety is compromised, rationality must prevail. It is understood that 15 stone wall trees have been cut down over the past two years because of safety concerns. We must not shy away from doing the right thing when the need arises.

But in the case of the two banyan trees, the public was only alerted to the removal decision at the last minute. The conflicting assessments by the government and the experts make it difficult for laymen to judge whether the trees should have been axed or not. Even if the decision was well justified, it was not explained to the people in a timely and convincing manner.

Choosing between people and Hong Kong’s banyan trees is like deciding whether to save ‘mother or girlfriend first’, says Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan

The saga came just weeks after we gave a cautious welcome to the government’s revised approach towards the management of stone wall trees. Officials have said they would do more studies to ascertain their risks.

We hope it does not mean more trees would be chopped without convincing reasons. We trust officials are fully aware of the public sentiments and will do everything it can to protect our trees.

It is good to hear that the government’s pledge to consider a new law on trees has not been forgotten. Speaking at the Legislative Council, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did not shy away from broaching the issue that had been taken up by her when she was the minister for development.

The government, she said, remained “cautiously open” to the idea of a tree law, adding that the Development Bureau was studying the relevant experience of six overseas and mainland cities.

Could Hong Kong’s 80-year-old banyan trees on Bonham Road have been spared the axe?

The controversy over the two banyan trees is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last.

What is certain, though, is that this kind of dispute will undermine public confidence in the government’s tree management. Until legislation is in place, officials need to come up with a better strategy in the meantime. Apart from doing a better job in managing our trees, they also need to better manage public expectations and responses.