LCQ urgent question: Tree management

Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau (in the absence of Secretary for Development) ,in the Legislative Council today (June 30):


Following the tragic tree-falling incident which occurred earlier in Yuen Chau Kok Park, Shatin, resulting in the death of a passer-by, a big Chinese banyan tree situated outside the entrance of the Central Government Offices, West Wing, collapsed a few days ago as it could not withstand days of winds and rain, causing injury to a passer-by and damages to properties.  There are comments that the occurrence of tree-falling incidents everywhere in Hong Kong reflects that serious problems exist in the management of trees by the Government, posing threats to the lives and safety of the public.  Given that the rainy season has started:

(a) whether the Government will immediately make public the list of trees which have been identified to be in need of further inspection, so that members of the public can take precautions; and

(b) as the tree outside the entrance of the Central Government Offices, West Wing, which collapsed was not on the aforesaid list, whether the Government will hire local and overseas experts to carry out inspection and monitoring of trees throughout Hong Kong, in order to prepare an accurate list of dangerous trees, thereby removing the threats posed to the public in a more expeditious and effective manner?



Thanks for the question from the Hon Mrs Regina Ip. As the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, now in Singapore, representing the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) at the Asia-Pacific Water Ministers' Forum and the World Cities Summit 2010, she is unable to attend the Legislative Council sitting today.  I will reply on her behalf to the question raised by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip.

The HKSAR Government was deeply saddened by the death of Mr Choi Kit-keung following the tree failure on a cycle track in Yuen Chau Kok, Sha Tin and offered its heartfelt condolences to his family.  The HKSAR Government also extended its best wishes to the passer-bys who were injured in a tree failure incident on Battery Path, Central on the 27th this month.

Our reply, on behalf of the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, to the question raised by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip is as follows:

(1) The Task Force on Tree Management led by the Chief Secretary for Administration published a report in June last year.  Pursuant to a recommendation of the report, the Development Bureau in conjunction with the tree management departments implemented the tree risk assessment arrangements in January this year to better protect public safety.  In essence, the objective of tree risk assessment is to reduce the risk posed by trees that may have problems at locations with high pedestrian and vehicular flow to personal safety and property of the public by taking timely action on these trees through a systematic methodology and procedures.

Tree risk assessment is conducted step-by-step in two stages.  In the first stage which involves an "area basis" assessment, departments first identify those areas with high pedestrian or vehicular flow under their management.  In the second stage involving a "tree basis" assessment, departments carry out tree group inspections at locations with high pedestrian or vehicular flow in accordance with the tree risk assessment guidelines to identify trees which may need particular protection (such as Old and Valuable Trees and stonewall trees) as well as dead trees and trees with major health or structural problems which may pose hazards to the public.

During tree group inspections, if departments come across trees that meet the conditions mentioned earlier, they will conduct detailed inspection for individual trees, including visual assessment and, subject to the specific conditions of the trees, or further inspection using equipment where necessary in order to assess the improvement measures required.  After the assessment, if risk mitigation measures, such as pruning to trim tree crown or remove dead branches, treatment of pests and diseases, and cabling and propping to support trees, are deemed necessary, departments will promptly follow-up.  If there are no other feasible remedial measures, departments will remove hazardous trees so as to eliminate the threat to public safety.  This assessment methodology has made reference to internationally recognised best practices.

Together with the tree management departments, the Development Bureau is now collating information on trees which had undergone detailed inspections in recent months with a view to releasing information on trees that still require follow-up action to the public as soon as possible in an appropriate manner.  The Development Bureau hopes that by increasing the transparency of tree information, we could promote community-wide surveillance, thereby helping the Government to carry out its tree risk management work more effectively.

The information to be released by the Development Bureau shortly will include inspected trees for which improvement measures are required and trees requiring special attention, e.g. Old and Valuable Trees and stonewall trees.  The Development Bureau understands the public concern on tree safety.  We are now pressing full steam ahead with the collation of relevant information and hope to release the information in the first half of July.

Tree risk assessment is not a one-off exercise.  It needs to be carried out continuously as an important part of day-to-day tree maintenance work.  As living organisms, trees also face the natural cycle.  Their health and structural conditions change with time and the surrounding, or in bad weather.  After the release of the tree list, the Development Bureau will continue to liaise with relevant departments and update the list from time to time.  Apart from conducting tree risk assessment, during the typhoon and rainy season, the tree management departments will stay vigilant and closely monitor changes in the trees conditions and the level of risk to safety so that appropriate follow-up action will be taken in a timely manner.

(2) At present, trees on government land are managed in accordance with the "integrated approach".  In brief, departments responsible for the land or the facilities where the trees are located are at the same time responsible for the trees on the land/facilities concerned.  To ensure the quality of tree risk assessment, the Development Bureau stipulates in the guidelines issued to departments that staff responsible for tree group assessment should have at least two years of front-line trees management experience, and have received training in trees risk management or supervision of tree work, and staff responsible for detailed inspection of individual trees should possess professional qualification obtained from arboricultural professional bodies or industry bodies (such as Certified Arborist of the International Society of Arboriculture or Professional Member of the Arboricultural Association of the United Kingdom or equivalent qualifications) with two years of relevant trees management experience.

Having regard to their specific operational needs, individual departments would redeploy internal staff to carry out trees risk assessment, or engage non-governmental personnel to render assistance.  In view of the large number of trees on government land, this is a more pragmatic arrangement.

The HKSAR Government is very concerned about the recent tree failure incidents.  The Development Bureau has enhanced coordination with the tree management departments to take precautionary measures diligently, paying special attention to trees that may have problems in locations with high pedestrian or traffic flow and taking follow-up action promptly.  The Bureau has already agreed with relevant departments on measures to expeditiously improve tree management work in Hong Kong.  These measures include:

* First, departments should ensure that all tree management work is conducted in a professional and prudent manner.  They should also adopt measures to ensure the quality of their work, for example, thorough close supervision and internal audit, etc.

* Second, all tree management departments should handle tree complaint cases promptly so as to identify problematic trees as soon as possible and take early follow-up actions.

* Third, the Tree Management Office has enhanced monitoring of tree management work carried out by departments.  This includes, among others, random inspection of the tree inspection forms completed by departments, random inspection on site of the condition of trees under the care of individual departments.  In cases where problems are identified but have yet to be resolved, the Tree Management Office will urge departments to take early action and will provide, where necessary, professional advice.

* Fourth, the tree management departments will further closely monitor the conditions of trees during the typhoon and rainy season.  Should there be any change in the risk level, immediate follow-up action will be taken.  Depending on the circumstances and in the absence of other feasible risk mitigation measures, trees will be removed as a last resort so as to eliminate the threat to public safety.

* Fifth, enhancement of training.  The Tree Management Office has provided training courses to over 2,230 government staff and contractor staff following the implementation of tree risk assessment arrangements early this year.  Depending on departments' operational needs, the Tree Management Office will continue to arrange more training for tree management departments.  It will also encourage staff of various levels to obtain professional qualifications in arboriculture, with a view to generally raising the professional standard of tree management staff.

The Government fully appreciates that enhancement of tree management is an important task which impacts on public safety.  The Development Bureau will join hands with all tree management departments and make our best endeavours in taking forward this task. Thank you Chairman.

Ends/Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:13