LCQ1: Tree management

Following is a question by Professor Hon Patrick Lau Sau-shing and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (May 26):


Some members of the public have complained to me that several trees located at the junction of Conduit Road and Kotewall Road have been felled for no reason, leaving behind only the base part of the tree trunks which look like "graves", with the soil around the roots of the trees covered by cement. According to the staff of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the trees were felled to safeguard public safety, as their health conditions were unsatisfactory.  Yet, the staff did not undertake to replant trees at the original location. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it is required under the existing policy that to preserve the original green landscaping, the government departments concerned are required to replant trees of similar quantities and sizes within a specified period of time at the original locations where trees were felled, and whether the authorities have formulated guidelines focusing on handling trees of unsatisfactory health conditions, with a view to monitoring the process of tree assessment and removal, and ensuring the complete removal of sick trees, thereby preventing the remaining tree trunks or roots as well as problematic soil from affecting the health conditions of the trees nearby, and preventing the remains of tree trunks from hindering the planting of new trees and affecting green landscaping; if such guidelines have been formulated, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether the government personnel responsible for assessing the health conditions of trees must possess specified professional qualifications or have received training in specific skills, so as to prevent healthy trees from being felled by mistake; and

(c) given that some members of the public have pointed out that at present, quite a number of trees along the roads have been trimmed down to their main trunks, and yet double deck buses generally do not run on those roads, of the reasons for the authorities to trim such trees?



To enhance the professional standards of government departments and the trade in carrying out greening, landscape and tree management work, the Task Force on Tree Management led by the Chief Secretary for Administration put forward a series of recommendations in its report entitled "People, Trees, Harmony" and published last June. To implement the recommendations, Development Bureau set up a Greening, Landscape and Tree Management (GLTM) Section in March this year. One of the key tasks of the GLTM Section is to formulate the standards and best practices on tree management, including guidelines on proper tree care and the identification of problematic trees, and to promote such standards and best practices within the Government and the trade. The GLTM Section will do its best in carrying out this task.

My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Under the current policy, government departments are required to carry out compensatory planting if trees are removed for the purpose of government works. The Works Branch of Development Bureau has issued internal guidelines on compensatory planting, which specify the quantity and quality of compensatory trees, the planting depth and the requirement for reserving sufficient planting space, etc. For instance, the quantity of compensatory trees should be no less than that the quantity of healthy trees removed and the aggregated girth size of the compensatory trees should not be less than that of the healthy trees removed. Moreover, the compensatory trees should meet specifications of "heavy standard" trees (e.g. height exceeding 3.5m, stem diameter exceeding 75mm, well balanced branching head, etc.). The GLTM Section is reviewing the guidelines with a view to further improving the measures on compensatory planting. It also intends to require government departments to consider, in cases where trees are removed for purposes other than government works, planting suitable trees in situ or nearby in compensation where there is sufficient space and soil depth for tree growth.

As regards monitoring and assessing trees in poor health, the major government departments tasked with tree management responsibility, such as Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), Housing Department and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, have drawn up guidelines. In support of the implementation of the tree risk assessment arrangements, the GLTM Section formulated practical guidelines early this year to provide guidance to government staff in assessing the health condition of trees. LCSD has also issued guidance notes on trees removal, such as the methods for removing tree trunks and roots at different sites; safety measures that staff should follow at work and requirements for compensatory planting. In general, departments will check the health condition of other trees nearby after removing a sick tree and take appropriate action if any problems are identified.

The GLTM Section is drawing up a comprehensive set of standards, practical guidelines and best practices for tree maintenance. In the process, the GLTM Section will review the current requirements for monitoring, assessing and removing trees (including those affected by diseases and pests). Where necessary, the GLTM Section will further refine the general guidelines to enhance the professional capability of the departments in tree management.

(b) Tree management is a professional task. Government departments responsible for tree management deploy staff with relevant expertise and operational experience to take care of trees (including assessing their health condition) and arrange staff training in the light of operational needs. The GLTM Section introduced new arrangements for tree risk assessment within the Government early this year to facilitate departments in identifying problematic trees as early as possible and taking appropriate follow-up actions in order to minimise the hazards. In support of these new arrangements, the GLTM Section has organised training workshops for about 2,230 managerial, supervisory and frontline staff from government departments and their contractors to help them acquire tree risk assessment techniques. To further enhance the quality and professional standards of our local tree management workforce, the GLTM Section has set up a Training Committee to review the training strategies of the departments tasked with tree maintenance responsibilities and formulate initiatives to enhance training for managerial, supervisory and frontline staff.

Regarding the prevention of removal of trees by mistake, all departments responsible for tree management impose stringent professional requirements. In general, each case of tree removal due to poor health is subject to assessment by staff who have many years of tree management experience and have received relevant training so as to ensure that trees may only be removed in the absence of any feasible way to improve their health and on grounds of public safety.

(c) The Works Branch of Development Bureau has issued technical guidelines on proper tree pruning to all government departments responsible for tree management and public works. It regularly reminds the staff of these departments as well as their contractors to comply with the requirements in these guidelines and, in particular, to avoid topping, over-pruning, cutting too close to the tree trunk or tearing the tree bark so as to minimise the risks of pest infection and tree decay. One of the considerations in pruning trees along roadside is to ensure that the tree crown would not be so large as to compromise the safety of road-users. While some roads may not be open to double-decker buses, heavy vehicles may travel on these roads.  Hence, tree pruning will also need to take this into account.

To raise private property owners' awareness of proper tree maintenance methods, the GLTM Section has recently embarked on issuing guidelines on the best practices for tree pruning to owners' corporations, mutual aid committees and property management companies across the territory for their reference. We will also promote proper tree care methods to the trade to help them enhance their professional standards.

Ends/Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:48