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LCQ8: Tree management

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Pierre Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (January 17):

Question:
    
It has been reported that incidents of tree mismanagement (e.g. some banyan trees being planted in small planters and the roots of some trees being covered with concrete) have happened from time to time in Hong Kong in recent years. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the respective current numbers of trees in Hong Kong which (i) are planted in planters or flower pots which are too small in size and (ii) have their roots covered with concrete; if so, of the numbers, and whether it will take remedial measures; if it has not, whether it will compile such statistics before the onset of the rainy season this year;

(2) of the total number of complaints received in each of the past five years by the various tree management departments about tree mismanagement and, among them, the number of cases considered to be posing immediate danger; the average and longest processing time taken for cases posing immediate danger and for non-emergency cases respectively;

(3) in respect of each tree management department at present, (i) of the number of trees managed, (ii) whether contractors have been commissioned to undertake the relevant work and (iii) the number of tree management personnel (including those supervising the contractors) and, among them, of the number of persons possessing the professional qualifications of landscape architects and arborists; the expenditure on tree management incurred by each of such departments in the past five financial years;

(4) of the existing guidelines and practice notes on tree management with which the various tree management departments and their contractors are required to comply, and whether those documents have specified that non-compliant personnel may be penalised; if so, the number and details of the cases in which penalties were imposed in the past five years; and

(5) given that the Ombudsman made 11 recommendations on the Government's tree management regime and practices in 2016, of the latest progress of the follow-up work taken on those recommendations by the authorities?

Reply:

President,

My reply to the five-part question raised by the Dr Hon Pierre Chan is as follows:

(1) The Greening, Landscape and Tree Management Section (GLTMS) of the Development Bureau does not have the figures of trees planted in planters, pots or with roots covered with concrete. The risk of trees is contributed by various interdependent factors, including growing environment. Every year before the onset of wet season, tree management departments review and assess the health and structural condition of trees in accordance with the Guidelines for Tree Risk Assessment and Management Arrangement, especially trees growing in restricted environment or with high risk of failure (such as senescent trees and stonewall trees) and implement necessary mitigation measures (including crown pruning, removing dead branches and where warranted, removing the tree) in a timely manner to ensure the healthy growth of trees and to protect public safety. The risks of trees in poor growing environment (such as trees planted in pots) are determined by the annual tree risk assessment.

Planting trees in pots or narrow planters, or covering tree roots with concrete is not advisable. The GLTMS has promulgated guidelines on "Right Tree Right Place" and asked tree management departments to select suitable tree species in appropriate places, with due consideration of various environmental factors prior to planting in order to ensure healthy plant growth.
 
(2) In the past five years from 2012-13 to 2016-17, the 1823 Call Centre and the core tree management departments received around 89 000 enquiries and complaints on tree management. Details are as follows:

 
Core tree management department Enquiries and complaints on tree management received in the past five years
2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department
(AFCD)
150 83 129 91 130
Architectural Services Department
(ArchSD)
66 31 38 56 40
Civil Engineering and Development Department
(CEDD)
96 54 45 47 109
Drainage Services Department (DSD) 34 15 30 74 78
Highways Department
(HyD)
1 316 1 525 1 896 2 678 4 730
Housing Department
(HD)
501 128 596 438 685
Lands Department
(LandsD)
12 367 8 876 7 710 10 719 11 366
Leisure and Cultural Services Department
(LCSD)
5 022 3 073 3 055 3 221 6 932
Water Supplies Department
(WSD)
220 157 147 122 126

Of these figures, a total of 13 180 cases were tree failure reports which required immediate attention. Upon receiving a complaint, tree management departments would deploy officers in a timely manner to look into the case, reply to the complainant and submit a report for follow-up. We do not have statistical figures on the processing time of the complaints.
 
(3) As at March 31, 2017, the number of trees maintained by the core tree management departments and their tree management staff (including officers involved in supervision of tree management contractors, but excluding other managerial and frontline staff who provide assistance and support) are set out below:
 
Core tree management department Number of trees maintained and number of staff
Number of trees maintained (Note 1) Engagement
of contractors
Staff responsible for tree maintenance
Number By profession
Landscape architect Certified arborist Landscape architect
and certified arborist
AFCD 38 000
(Note 2)
No 87 0 28 0
ArchSD 200 000 Yes 5 1 1 1
CEDD 300 Yes 8 4 1 0
DSD 24 800 Yes 17 3 1 0
HyD 633 000 Yes 58 20 8 4
HD 100 800 Yes 41 3 15 0
LandsD N/A
(Note 3)
Yes 14 0 13 0
LCSD 515 000 Yes 217 0 70 0
WSD 157 100 Yes 21 1 0 0

Note 1: Rounded to the nearest 100.
Note 2: AFCD manages all trees in country parks. The figure includes only the number of trees in frequently used areas and facilities.
Note 3: The unallocated and unleased government land (UUGL) is under the jurisdiction of LandsD, which is responsible for providing non-routine tree maintenance on UUGL that is not maintained by any designated government departments. In practice, trees on the UUGL cannot be counted due to the large number of trees. LandsD officers will take follow-up actions upon referrals or complaints.

The expenditure incurred by the core tree management departments (excluding personal emoluments) for tree management in the past five financial years is as follows:
 
Core tree management department Expenditure on tree management
in the past five years (Note 4) ($ million)
2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
AFCD Not Applicable (Note 5)
ArchSD 52 67 67 67 69
CEDD 10 8 0.2 1 1
DSD 5 5 7 10 8
HyD 55 57 58 57 55
HD 24 22 22 21 19
LandsD 36 55 55 32 24
LCSD 130 161 181 200 228
WSD 6 6 6 10 7
 
Note 4: Including tree management contracts (covering tree care, facility maintenance and horticultural care and greening) as well as tree inspection equipment purchased for in-house use.
Note 5: AFCD is responsible for the management of country parks (including trees) and there is no itemised breakdown for expenditure on tree management.

(4) The GLTMS has issued a number of technical circulars and guidelines to ensure that tree management departments and their contractors follow proper practices on tree preservation, planting, risk assessment and maintenance, etc., including Technical Circular on Tree Preservation, Guidelines for Tree Risk Assessment and Management Arrangement, Proper Tree Planting, Management Guidelines for Stonewall Trees, Guidelines on Arboriculture Occupational Safety and Health and Fact Sheet on Brown Root Rot Disease, etc. Relevant technical circulars and guidelines can be found on the GLTMS website at http://www.greening.gov.hk/. When formulating contracts for horticulture and tree management, government departments will clearly stipulate all the service requirements in the contracts. If the contractor fails to deliver the level of services as required in the contract, the relevant government department will take enforcement actions against the contractor in accordance with the contract provisions. In the five-year period from 2012-13 to 2016-17, a total of 130 enforcement actions were taken by core tree management departments against the contractors on non-compliance, including issuance of warning letters and deduction of contract payments, etc.

(5) Of the 11 recommendations made in the Ombudsman's direct investigation on the Government's tree management regime and practices, the GLTMS has been carrying out and making progress on 10 recommendations relating to manpower resources, and management of trees on both government land and private land. These include assisting in the establishment of the Arboriculture and Horticulture Industry Training Advisory Committee and develop a qualifications framework for the industry so as to enhance the professional standards; working closely with tertiary institutions and training institutions to increase training courses to accelerate the development of professionals and frontline staff to meet market demands; improving the guidelines for tree risk management and upgrading the requirements of trees inspectors in arboricultural qualifications and experience; uplifting trees asset management works on government land; and promulgating a Handbook on Tree Management to provide private property owners with guidelines and standards of good practice on tree management.

As regards the recommendation on tree legislation, given the impact such legislation might have on private property management, we must consider thoroughly and carefully. At present, the key issue is a shortage of qualified tree management personnel in the industry. In this connection, the GLTMS has been coordinating with training institutions and professional organisations to systematically up-skill tree management personnel at different levels, and increase qualified personnel to meet demands.

Ends/Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Issued at HKT 18:10

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