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LCQ23: Management and maintenance of trees

Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 16):

Question:

At the end of last month, the Queen's College removed, without prior announcement, a decades-old candlenut tree located on its campus, adjacent to the entrance of the car park at Causeway Road. The incident has aroused media and public concerns, and some members of the public have queried such an approach adopted by the school. Regarding the management and maintenance of trees, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the lease for the lot on which the Queen's College sits contains a tree preservation clause; if so, whether the school had applied to Lands Department and obtained its approval or had notified the department before it removed the aforesaid candlenut tree;

(2) of the criteria and considerations based on which the Government decides whether or not to include a tree preservation clause in the lease concerned when granting a plot of government land;

(3) of the current number of land leases which contain a tree preservation clause, as well as the number and locations of the land lots concerned;

(4) among the leased lots mentioned in (3), of the lots with one or more trees listed in the Tree Register and the number of such trees on each of these lots, together with a breakdown by category of trees (i.e. (i) old and valuable tree (OVT), (ii) stonewall tree, (iii) OVT & stonewall tree, and (iv) tree which requires continuous monitoring);

(5) whether there is currently any legislation governing the professional qualifications of the contractors responsible for inspecting tree conditions; if there is, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) given that Chapter 6 of the Report No. 63 of the Director of Audit has pointed out that there is room for improvement in the efforts of the Tree Management Office (TMO) in co-ordinating the work of tree management departments (in particular, there are grey areas relating to the delineation of maintenance responsibilities of roadside trees among different tree management departments, and TMO should co-ordinate more effectively the relevant work carried out by the departments other than the nine major tree management government departments), whether the Government will consider upgrading TMO to a government department dedicated to the management and maintenance of trees across the territory; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Under the Government's integrated approach for tree management, the department responsible for the management of a particular area or facility is also responsible for the maintenance of the trees there. These departments will properly manage and maintain the trees in accordance with the current policy guidelines, technical circulars and best practices issued by the Government. The Tree Management Office (TMO) of the Development Bureau is responsible for formulating and steering tree management policies. It also coordinates the work of the departments in implementing the integrated approach on tree management.

As regards the trees on private land, the Government has included "tree preservation clauses" and "landscape clauses" in land leases since the 1970s and the mid-1980s. The Government may also impose new requirements for tree preservation through the planning regime or by way of lease modification in cases of land redevelopment.

My reply to the Hon Kenneth Leung's question is as follows:

(1) According to the record of Lands Department (LandsD), the land on which the Queen's College sits has been allocated to the Education Bureau (EDB) for its use and management by way of Permanent Government Land Allocation (PGLA) in the early years. No tree preservation clause has been stipulated in the allocation, which is not a lease of private land. According to the information provided by the EDB, the College has all along hired a professional horticultural maintenance service contractor to conduct regular inspection of trees in the campus and undertake tree pruning as appropriate. The latest detailed inspection and risk assessment report of the contractor confirmed that the candlenut tree standing by the side of the carpark entrance at Causeway Road was dying of necrosis. There was no hope of recovery. It had to be removed lest it posed a risk to the school teachers and students as well as passers-by. For the sake of prudence, the College consulted another professional company, which reached the same conclusion and advised the College to remove the candlenut tree as soon as possible. The College put forward a tree removal proposal to the LandsD in late October 2015. Since the land was allocated to the EDB and was not subject to any tree preservation clause, the LandsD referred the case to the EDB for consideration and action. The EDB noted that it had no objection to the removal. The College then proceeded to remove the tree on November 27 to safeguard the safety of its teachers and students. It also informed the EDB about the arrangement.

(2) and (3) Leases executed at different times contain varying conditions. "Tree preservation clauses" were only included in land leases from the 1970s onwards. The engineering conditions of the Government Land Allocations also stipulated similar tree preservation conditions in cases where the circumstances warranted in the 1970s. Given the large number of land lots involved, the LandsD has not compiled any statistic on the private lots with leases that contain "tree preservation clauses". In any case, owners are responsible for the proper management of their property, including the trees thereon, irrespective of the inclusion of "tree preservation clauses" in the leases.

(4) There are a huge number of trees in Hong Kong. Their health and structural conditions continuously change in the course of their lifecycles and under impact of external environment. As such, active public participation in monitoring tree conditions is an integral part of our tree risk management strategy.

To facilitate community-wide surveillance of trees, the TMO has uploaded the information on the following three categories of trees to the Tree Register since July 2010 for reference of the public:

(i) Trees that are important and require continual monitoring, such as Old and Valuable Trees (OVTs) and stonewall trees;

(ii) Problematic trees identified in the detailed tree risk assessment exercise and for which risk mitigation measures have yet to be completed; and

(iii) Trees that are the subjects of complaints or referrals received by the TMO or departments and require continual monitoring.

Among the leased lots with tree preservation clauses as mentioned in part (3) above, only two lots have a tree each listed as OVT before the leases came into force, and therefore the trees were included in the Tree Register. All other trees on the Tree Register are found on government land.

At present, the Tree Register has a total of 907 trees on record. They comprise (i) 482 OVTs (among which 35 are stonewall trees); (ii) 348 stonewall trees (among which 35 are OVTs); (iii) 35 OVTs which are also stonewall trees; and (iv) 112 trees that require continual monitoring.

(5) At present, there is no legislation governing the professional qualifications of the contractors responsible for inspecting tree conditions. But the Guidelines for Tree Risk Assessment and Management Arrangement, promulgated by the TMO, has set out in detail the requisite education attainment, professional qualification, training and relevant work experience required of the personnel undertaking inspection of tree groups and individual trees. These conditions will be added to the tree management contracts awarded by government departments. For trees on private lots, the LandsD would advise the private property owners to refer to the list of qualified service providers/members in the professional groups on the Development Bureau's 'Trees website' when issuing advisory letters.

The works departments also maintain a list of specialist contractors (landscaping).  Contractors interested in providing landscape services to the works department must apply for admission to the list before they are eligible to tender for tree management contracts. The Housing Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department have their own separate lists of contractors for undertaking their landscaping works.

To qualify for admission to the list of specialist contractors (landscaping), contractors must meet the established financial, technical and management criteria. Their staff must also meet the requisite qualification requirements in respect of management, supervision and technical skills related to tree management. The contractors' performance will be reflected in appraisal reports and unsatisfactory performance will impair their chances of winning tree-related contracts. The Development Bureau has, in coordination with relevant departments, conducted a comprehensive review on the management arrangement of the contractors providing tree management services to the departments, including the criteria related to education attainment, professional qualification and relevant experience of arboricultural practitioners. The review aims to encourage the industry to enhance their professionalism and service level as well as to provide reference to the departments on the requisite professional standards of these services. We hope to enhance the overall management standard and service quality of tree management in Hong Kong in the long run.

Currently, we are stepping up collaboration with various professional institutions and training organisations, such as Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects and Vocational Training Council, with a view to introducing initiatives on professional accreditation, vocational skill assessment, etc. for the arboriculture industry.

(6) Given the large number of trees that are scattered around the different locations and facilities in the territory, there are practical difficulties in placing all the trees under the management of a single department. At present, the department responsible for the maintenance of an area or a facility is also responsible for the maintenance of trees there. This ensures a clear delineation of rights and responsibilities and more optimal use of resources. Placing all trees in the territory under the purview of a single department will create coordination problems with the departments responsible for the daily management of the facility or land and fragmented responsibilities.

For instance, under the current integrated approach, staff of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department undertakes tree care work in the course of performing daily routine duties of fire prevention patrol and maintenance for recreational facilities (such as barbecue pits) in country parks. This arrangement would obviate the problem of overlapping responsibilities in country park management.

The integrated management approach in tree management makes reference to the management system for slope maintenance. The latter system has proved to be effective in practice.

Ends/Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:31

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