LCQ5: Inspection and caring of trees
Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Legislative Council today (June 10):
Following the recent spate of incidents of tree collapsing which occurred one after the other in various districts of Hong Kong, causing injuries to members of the public and property losses, some members of the community requested that the Government to step up its work of inspection and caring of trees. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has assessed the average age of the trees on government land other than country parks; if it has, of a breakdown of such figures by District Council district; whether the Government will step up its work of inspection and caring of trees in areas where the trees are relatively old on average and where pedestrian or vehicular flow is relatively high; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether at present it has guidelines on the locations, soil quality, growing space, intervals and tree species in respect of planting trees on government lands; if so, of the details, as well as whether it will review the guidelines; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; if it has no guidelines, the reasons for that; whether the Government will consider afresh enacting legislation on trees to provide for the caring of trees; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) whether at present it has guidelines on and procedures for the registration and selection of contractors for outsourced tree caring work, as well as matters related to the tendering exercises; if so, of the details; whether the Government, when outsourcing tree caring work, requires the contractors to fully comply with all the Government's internal technical circulars and guidelines relating to the caring and management of trees; if so, how the Government monitors the contractors' compliance with the guidelines; if not, of the reasons for that; whether contractors will be penalised if they have damaged trees in the course of the outsourced work, and what responsibility they have to bear?
Government has been vigorously promoting greening through active planting and proper maintenance and preservation of trees and other vegetation, with a view to providing a better living environment. In view of the recent public concern about tree preservation and public safety, Government has formed a Task Force, which is led by the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) and comprises representatives from the Development Bureau, Environment Bureau, Home Affairs Bureau and Transport and Housing Bureau, and the execution departments responsible for tree maintenance under the existing "Integrated Approach". The Task Force is undertaking a comprehensive review of the institutional framework and division of responsibilities in tree management within Government, the existing legislations on tree management, deployment of resources, and staff training and equipment, and will provide recommendations on areas for improvement. It is scheduled that the Task Force will complete the review and submit the report by end June.
As the review is ongoing, my replies to the Hon Tanya Chan's question today are given based on the current situation and do not reflect the possible conclusions and recommendations that may be made by the Task Force after the review. On the three sections of her question, my replies are as follows:
(a) In view of the large tree population in Hong Kong, there are tens of thousands of trees along roadsides, in public housing estates and government facilities and on government land even if the trees in country parks are excluded. As we have not conducted a comprehensive survey of such large quantity of trees, we cannot provide information on the age of these trees, no matter on territorial basis or on district basis. However, each of the departments concerned will make appropriate arrangement in the tree inspection and maintenance work, taking into account the actual situation including the condition of the tree and where the tree is located. For example, for the trees listed on the Register of Old and Valuable Trees, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department will carry out detailed inspection of those under its jurisdiction at least twice a year and will undertake appropriate follow-up and maintenance. As for the trees in areas with high pedestrian or vehicular flow, including parks, public housing estates, roadsides and recreational sites of country parks, the departments concerned will step up inspection, monitoring and maintenance as appropriate and will make proper arrangement for those trees with poor health condition, trees of larger size or older age. Moreover, extra tree inspections will be conducted and maintenance will be provided for damaged trees after typhoons to reduce safety hazard to the public.
(b) The predecessor of the Works Branch of the Development Bureau (i.e. the then Works Branch of the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau) issued in 2004 the Cyber Manual for Greening (the Manual) which covers reference materials on the design, planting and caring of trees and other vegetation, including information on the planting objectives, planting sites, soil quality, plant species and planting methods, etc, and provides policy and technical guidance to the departments involved in greening. Other than making reference to the Manual, relevant departments have also put in place in-house guidelines to meet their specific operational needs. As for the selection of plant species, there is a wide array of species available for Government's greening projects. Designers will make a choice in the light of the design concept and environmental factors, such as the micro-climate of the planting area, soil quality, visual impact, traffic flow and landscape features within the planting areas, whether the species can help protect the slope from soil erosion, the estimated construction cost, the maintenance requirements as well as the views of District Councils and local communities. We will review and update the guidelines on the Manual from time to time. In the review of the Task Force led by the CS, updating and standardisation of guidelines is one of the topics being studied.
On the question of whether it would be necessary to have legislation on trees, there are at present a number of relevant ordinances that are applicable to the protection of trees on government or private land (including Forests and Countryside Ordinance, Country Parks Ordinance, Crimes Ordinance, Theft Ordinance, Summary Offences Ordinance and Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance). Besides, Government has implemented a series of administrative measures to ensure the proper protection and management of trees on government land. For private land, Government has included tree preservation clauses in land leases since the 1970s. The Task Force led by the CS will also review again the need and rationale for making legislation on trees.
(3) To ensure that Government's outsourced greening works are up to the required standard, relevant bureaux/departments have set up their respective lists of contractors for greening works. For example, all works departments should employ the contractors on the List of Approved Specialist Contractors for Landscape Works maintained by the Works Branch of the Development Bureau for carrying out greening works. Relevant contractors must meet the criteria for approval or the technical and management requirements laid down by the authorities before they are listed as approved contractors.
In implementing the tree transplanting and maintenance work, the approved contractors shall comply with the technical specifications stipulated in the works contract. These technical specifications are drawn up with reference to the technical circulars and guidelines relevant to tree transplanting and maintenance and also based on the specific job requirements.
During the contract period, the departments concerned will regulate the contractor's work by inspecting, monitoring and vetting the contractor's report according to the terms of the contract. In case the contractor fails to comply with the contract provisions resulting in any damage or destruction of trees, he will be held liable in accordance with the terms of the contract, such as providing appropriate remedial measures or carrying out compensatory planting. According to the contractor's management guidelines issued by relevant authorities, contract management staff should also take sanction against the contractor by issuing written warnings or reporting the contractor's unsatisfactory performance in the performance appraisal. The contractor's chance of success in bidding for future public works contracts may therefore be affected.
Ends/Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:54