If old tree poses a risk to public safety then it must be cut down

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2015, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2015, 4:49pm

I refer to two recent seemingly similar incidents relating to the felling of old trees.

On July 22, a 21-metre-high century-old Chinese banyan tree collapsed on Bonham Road during one of the worst rainstorms in Hong Kong this year, injuring two people and damaging parts of nearby buildings.

In the second incident on August 7, four banyan trees on Bonham Road were felled by the Highways Department, in the interests of public safety.

After the first incident, the usual groups came out (including tree experts, district councillors and local residents) to criticise the department for not carrying out proper maintenance and preventive works. In fact it planned to remove the tree a year ago, but backed down following strong objections from these same groups. After the second incident, there was an uproar from various sectors of society, including the same concerned groups, environmentalists and some other government departments.

Some local residents even went to the Highways Department's office to demand an apology. In all the furore, no mention was made of the first incident.

We need to ask why our society has become so illogical. Is it now saying that felling old trees to safeguard the public is wrong? We are failing to accept the cruel reality that people and trees cannot always live harmoniously together, particularly in populous areas. The problem is that Hong Kong is densely populated and trees require a lot of space to stay healthy. If a potentially dangerous tree is to be preserved because it is old and considered important, then the area around it would have to be cleared. That might include buildings and the cost would be astronomical.

I wonder who would foot the bill. If it was the government, then we would be entitled to ask if it was worth spending taxpayers' money to satisfy a small minority.

Dr Wong Hong-yau, Happy Valley