Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, (in the absence of Secretary for Development)in the Legislative Council today (June 30):
Regarding the incident of a Norfolk Island Pine tree in Maryknoll Convent School being removed some time ago and the question raised by a Member of this Council on March 3 this year on this incident, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the authorities have recorded the details (including the species, quantity, location and health status) of all the trees within the monument boundary in the period starting from three years before the school building cluster of Maryknoll Convent School was declared to be a monument and thereafter up till now; whether the authorities have paid regular inspection visits to the monument site and examined the tree conditions of the trees since the school was declared to be a monument; if they have not, whether they will review the existing regime;
(b) given that the Secretary for Development had said in her reply to the aforesaid question that "Eurasian Garden Limited and Man Chung Fong Heung Garden, which were engaged by the School, removed a total of 18 trees......within the monument boundary in December 2008. The School had not submitted the details of the tree removal works, the commencement date and the estimated completion date of the works in advance to the Executive Secretary of the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in accordance with the requirements of the permit applicable to tree removal", whether it has assessed if the practice of Maryknoll Convent School had violated any regulation; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of an update of the follow-up actions taken by AMO; if the assessment result is in the negative, the reasons for that;
(c) whether it knows if Maryknoll Convent School has replanted trees within the monument boundary after removing the aforesaid tree; if it has, whether the school has submitted an application in this regard to the authorities; if such application has been submitted, of the details of vetting and approving the application and provide to this Council a copy of the document; if not, whether the authorities will follow up in accordance with the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53); whether the authorities have allowed the school to plant new trees within the monument boundary and issued guidelines to the school; if they have, a copy of the guidelines;
(d) given that the authorities issued a Block Permit to Maryknoll Convent School, allowing the school to carry out "emergency works" to remove trees for the purpose of protecting the monument structure or for public safety and after submitting notification to AMO, and that regarding the trees on government land at present, it must be ascertained that a tree constitutes an immediate danger to the public before the authorities consider removing it, whether there is any discrepancy between the terms of the Block Permit and the current tree management policy; if there is discrepancy, whether the authorities have changed their tree management policy; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for the discrepancy between the terms of the Block Permit and the current policy;
(e) given that the Secretary for Development had said in her reply to the aforesaid question that Maryknoll Convent School had neither submitted the details and descriptions of the proposed works to AMO and obtained the written notification from AMO for the commencement of the works, nor informed AMO subsequently of the commencement date and the estimated completion date of the works, as required by the Block Permit, before the commencement of the drainage works, of the justification for the Government to consider that the drainage works carried out in the school fell under the scope of "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" as specified in the Block Permit; whether AMO has coordinated with other government departments (especially the Education Bureau), in relation to such works; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(f) whether the authorities had, apart from issuing the Block Permit to Maryknoll Convent School, issued Block Permits to other owners of private monuments in the past five years; if they had, of the number of such cases and their nature, as well as the valid periods of Block Permits, and provide copies of the relevant documents?
My reply to the six parts of the question is given below:
(a) The Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance and the permit arrangement under section 6 of the Ordinance aim to protect a place, building, site or structure which has been declared a monument under section 3 of the Ordinance. The school complex of Maryknoll Convent School (the School) is on private land. The trees within the monument boundary of the School are not monuments and the School is responsible for their care. For the above reasons and following the established practice, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has not kept separate records of the trees within the monument boundary of the School, nor has it conducted regular inspections or examinations of these trees after the declaration of the school complex as a monument.
If a monument owner proposes planting or removing any tree at a site near a monument building, AMO will examine the details of the works and consider the need to take any protective measures. If the proposed works may affect any trees near the works site, AMO will pay heed and discuss measures for protecting the trees with the monument owner. We consider the current arrangements generally appropriate, but will instruct the Tree Management Office of the Development Bureau and AMO to liaise more closely with each other and consider providing assistance regarding the management of trees within the boundary of declared monuments.
(b) Regarding the removal of 18 trees by the School within the monument boundary in December 2008, AMO has sought information from the School in connection with the obligation of the School to comply with relevant requirements under the Block Permit for carrying out the above works. Having examined the information provided by the School, AMO is seeking legal advice on the matter.
(c) According to the information provided to AMO by the School, the School received a subsidy in 2009 under the Greening School Subsidy Scheme 2009/10 of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and carried out greening works on the school campus in December 2009, including the planting of one Camellia and six Sunshine trees. The planting sites of the above-mentioned trees fall within the monument boundary. However, the School had not in advance submitted information such as the details of the planting works to the Executive Secretary of AMO and obtained the written notification from the Executive Secretary for the commencement of the works, nor informed the Executive Secretary subsequently of the commencement date and the estimated completion date of the works, as required by the Block Permit. At AMO's request, the School has provided information on the case. Having examined the information, AMO is seeking legal advice on the matter. The Ordinance allows planting of trees within the monument boundary. However, the monument owner concerned must comply with relevant requirements of the Ordinance in carrying out the planting works.
(d) On preservation of trees on Government land, our policy is to ensure that no trees will be unnecessarily removed. Any decision to remove a tree must take into account all relevant factors, such as the condition of the tree and the potential impact of the tree on human life and property. In handling cases of emergency tree removal, protecting public safety is our foremost consideration.
The Block Permit issued under section 6 of the Ordinance allows the monument owner to carry out necessary emergency works immediately in order to protect public safety and health and to protect the monument from damage due to any accident, emergency or any other events. The spirit of this arrangement is consistent with the policy of tree preservation on Government land.
(e) With regard to the drainage works carried out by the School within the monument boundary in January 2010, AMO has sought information from the School in connection with the obligation of the School to comply with relevant requirements under the Block Permit for carrying out the above works. Having examined the information provided by the School, AMO is seeking legal advice on the matter.
The Block Permit allows the monument owner or his/her agent to carry out necessary minor repair and improvement works and emergency works to keep the monument in good condition and to protect the safety of monument users and general public. The "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" under the Block Permit mainly refer to repair and improvement works to the structures, buildings or other facilities within the monument boundary which do not affect the monument in terms of its structure and appearance, etc. The drainage works carried out by the School within the monument boundary to replace the underground drains near the monument school building in January 2010 would not touch the monument school building, its braced structure or foundation, and hence would not affect the structure or appearance of the monument. Therefore, AMO considers that the works fall within the scope of "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" under the Block Permit. The works are required to be carried out in accordance with the procedures stipulated in the permit.
The School had not in advance submitted the details and descriptions of the works to the Executive Secretary of AMO, nor obtained the written notification from the Executive Secretary for commencement of the works before starting the works. Therefore, AMO had not been able to consult relevant departments as it deemed necessary having regard to the actual circumstance before the works commenced.
(f) AMO issued a total of 179 Block Permits to 37 private monument owners in accordance with section 6(1) of the Ordinance between June 2005 and May 2010.
The Block Permits issued between June 2005 and April 2009 were valid for 12 months and allowed monument owners to carry out routine maintenance works specified in the permits in accordance with the requirements of the permits. A template of the permit is at Annex I. The Block Permits issued since May 2009 are valid for 24 months and set out clearly the respective scope of "Routine Maintenance Works", "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" and "Emergency Works" as well as the detailed arrangements concerning notification to the Executive Secretary of AMO. A template of the permit is at Annex II.
Ends/Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:48