Following is a question by Dr the Hon Margaret Ng and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (March 3):
Maryknoll Convent School was declared a monument in 2008. There was a Norfolk Island Pine on its campus which was over 70 years old and half of the roots of the tree were damaged as a result of the drainage works carried out in the school last year. The school had earlier removed the tree on grounds of safety. Regarding the conservation of trees within the site of a monument and the aforesaid incident of the Norfolk Island Pine being removed, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) which existing legislation and provisions are related to the conservation of the trees within the site of a monument, especially those monuments located on private land; if there is no such legislation, whether the Government will consider commencing the work of enacting legislation to make up for the inadequacy of the existing legislation;
(b) whether it knows the details of the aforesaid drainage works, including the implementation date, nature, scope, payer and contractor, etc.; which government department had issued the "general permit" to the school before the commencement of the drainage works, and under which legislation the permit was issued, as well as the content, issuance date and validity period of the permit, and provide a copy of the permit to this Council; whether Maryknoll Convent School had applied to the Secretary for Development for carrying out the above drainage works under section 6(1) of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (the Ordinance); if not, whether it has assessed if the works were in breach of the law, and whether any follow-up action has been taken by the authorities; if the works were assessed to be in compliance with the law, of the justifications for that; and
(c) whether it knows the number of trees on the campus of Maryknoll Convent School which had been felled since the school was declared a monument, as well as the details of all the tree-felling works, including the dates, particulars of the contractors and reasons for felling the trees; whether the school had obtained a permit under the Ordinance before each of the tree-felling works; if so, provide a copy of each of such permits; if not, whether it has assessed if the works were in breach of the law and what follow-up actions had been taken by the authorities; if the works were assessed to be in compliance with the law, of the justifications for that?
The school building cluster of the Maryknoll Convert School (the School) was declared as a monument in May 2008. The School has played a facilitating role throughout the process, demonstrating the School's support to heritage conservation. Recently, over half of the major root system of a Norfolk Island Pine tree on campus was damaged as a result of the drainage repair works. In order to protect the safety of the public as well as the safety of students and teachers, the School decided to remove the tree. The Government understood and concurred with the decision of the School.
My replies to the three parts of the question are as follows:
(a) Under section 6(1)(a) of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, except with exemption granted by the Authority (i.e. the Secretary for Development), any person who excavates, carries on building or other works, plants or fells trees or deposits earth or refuse on or in a proposed monument or monument must do so in accordance with a permit granted by the Authority. This provision applies to both government-owned and privately-owned monuments.
If the owner of a monument proposes to fell a tree within the monument boundary, he should submit details of the works to the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) for consideration of the appropriateness of the tree removal proposal and the works arrangement. Tree removal may only be carried out after permission has been obtained. In addition, a "tree preservation clause" has been included in the land leases of some of the monuments on private land. The clause stipulates that the owner may only remove or interfere with a tree within the lot after making an application and having obtained the consent of the Director of Lands.
If the owner of a monument proposes to carry out construction or other works within the monument boundary, the owner has to submit the details and descriptions of the proposed works to AMO. AMO will pay heed to any impact of the construction works on the trees in the vicinity of the works area and follow up with the owner as appropriate. Except for emergency works, the relevant works may only commence after permission has been obtained.
Apart from the statutory requirements, in regard to government-owned monuments, relevant departments carrying out works within the monument boundary are required to follow the usual requirements for public works to ensure proper protection of the trees both within and in the vicinity of the construction sites. Contractors are required to set up a tree protection zone for trees listed in the Register of Old and Valuable Trees so as to ensure that the construction works would not cause any damage to the trees. At the same time, contractors are required to take appropriate protective measures having regard to the site condition for other trees outside the Register of Old and Valuable Trees.
We consider that the existing statutory requirements and associated administrative measures are able to adequately protect the trees within the monument boundary, and hence there is no need to enact a new ordinance or amend existing laws at this stage. Nevertheless, we will enhance the monument owners' understanding of the existing control system. For instance, we will provide detailed guidelines and assistance with a view to encouraging owners of monuments, in particular owners of privately-owned monuments and their contractors, to preserve trees within the monument boundary and to take appropriate tree protective measures when carrying out works within the monument boundary.
(b) The Buildings Department issued an advisory letter to the School on December 9, 2004, requesting the School to conduct investigation and renovation works for underground water pipes and drains in the vicinity of the slopes and the retaining walls. The School subsequently obtained approval under the subvention procedures for schools and carried out the related drainage renovation works between end 2009 and early 2010. The school campus is on private land and the School takes charge of the works. The School made an application to the Education Bureau for subsidy in accordance with the Education Bureau's arrangement for providing subsidy to aided schools for carrying out general maintenance works. The School obtained a subsidy of 50% of the cost of the drainage works, i.e. $1.1 million. The remaining half of the cost was borne by the School. The School employed James Lau & Associates Limited as the consultant for the works to coordinate the drainage investigation and renovation works, and Fine View Engineering Limited as the contractor to carry out the drainage works. The Government did not participate in the design and management of the works.
Under section 6(1) of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, the Authority issued a Block Permit (the Permit), with a validity period from July 15, 2009 to July 14, 2011, to Maryknoll Convent School. The Permit allows the Permit Holder to carry out "Routine Maintenance", "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" and "Emergency Works" as specified in the Permit, subject to the conditions of the Permit. A copy of the Permit is attached to this reply at Annex (The Permit was issued only in English). We believe that the drainage works carried out in the School in recent months fell under the scope of "Minor Repair and Improvement Works" as specified in the Permit. However, the School had not submitted the details and descriptions of the proposed 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, before the commencement of the drainage works. AMO has requested the School to provide detailed information on the matter for necessary follow-up action.
(c) According to the information provided by the School to AMO recently, Eurasian Garden Limited and Man Chung Fong Heung Garden, which were engaged by the School, removed a total of 18 trees (including 2 Bauhinia; 1 flame tree; 7 Eucalyptus; 4 horsetail trees; 1 Chinese hackberry; 2 sunshine trees and 1 Queen Crape Myrtle) 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 AMO in accordance with the requirements of the permit applicable to tree removal. AMO has requested the School to provide detailed information on the matter for necessary follow-up action.
Separately, the School removed a Norfolk Island Pine tree, as referred to in the question, on campus on February 6, 2010. The works fell within the scope of emergency works permitted under the Block Permit that has been issued to the School. The School had submitted notification to AMO as required under the Permit and AMO had indicated no objection to the School before the tree removal works commenced.
Ends/Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:26