Government, Maryknoll reach consensus to explore tree preservation options

The Government and the management of Maryknoll Convent School have reached a consensus to explore all possible preservation options for an Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine) tree at the school site. In this connection, Maryknoll has decided to suspend the tree felling originally scheduled for July 27.

Representatives from the Development Bureau, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department including its tree team and Antiquities and Monuments Office, and the Architectural Services Department met with the school management today (July 21) to exchange views on the issue.

At the meeting both the Government and Maryknoll shared the common goal of ensuring the safety of students and the public, and preserving the tree without posing any adverse structural impact on the school building, which is a declared monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.

Maryknoll attaches importance to heritage conservation as demonstrated in its co-operation and support for the declaration of the school building as a monument by the Antiquities Authority last year. The school management also views the tree as an icon of the school and part of its "living heritage". They had therefore been taking advice from different tree experts on the tree's health and stability over the months.

"We love the tree, but our prime concern has been, and remains, its threat to our pupils and to public safety. There is, of course, also the moral and legal liability for loss of life and limb should the tree topple over," said Sister Jeanne Houlihan, Regional Representative of the Maryknoll Sisters.

The tree team from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has examined the tree and found it in a stable and healthy condition with no immediate danger. Nevertheless, both parties agreed that any measures to stabilise the condition of the tree must, above all, minimise the potential risk to public safety.

At the meeting both parties agreed to explore options to be proposed by a consultant to be engaged by the Government. When devising the stabilisation options, the consultant must take into account the safety of students and the public, and conservation of the tree should not damage the integrity and outlook of the school building. Other suggestions, including transplanting the tree to an open area for public appreciation, and planting in situ a tree of the same species, may also be considered.

The Government has pledged to extend to the school the necessary expert advice and assistance, with arrangements to be made to monitor the tree's health and stability closely.

The management of this tree illustrates the difficulties in arriving at a consensus on tree conditions and assessed risks while ensuring public safety where the tree is located in areas with heavy pedestrian and traffic flow.

These are the areas identified for improvement and action in the Report of the Task Force on Tree Management published on June 29 this year.

Ends/Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Issued at HKT 17:59