LCQ14: Follow-up work on a tree collapse incident

     Following is a question by the Hon Lai Tung-kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     In September this year, a tree, which was under the maintenance of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and located beside the carriageway of Perth Street, Ho Man Tin, collapsed. It has been reported that in this incident, three private cars and one school bus were crushed and damaged, and two members of the public were also injured. Regarding the follow-up work on the incident, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as the Development Bureau announced at the end of last month the results of the investigation conducted by the LCSD as well as the follow-up work taken by the LCSD in connection with the aforesaid tree collapse incident, and pointed out that among the 34 trees at Perth Street for which re-inspections were conducted, three were found to have decay inside their trunk bases and had to be removed as soon as possible, whether it has reviewed if such a proportion is similar to that obtained in tree inspections conducted by the authorities over the years; if it has reviewed and the outcome is in the affirmative, whether it has studied if this means that a similar proportion of trees across the territory currently also have decay inside their trunk bases and have to be removed as soon as possible; if the review outcome is in the negative, whether it has studied the reasons for the difference in the proportions between the two;
(2) whether it has taken the initiative to contact the vehicle owners concerned (especially the school bus owner whose livelihood may be gravely affected) and the injured, and provided them with assistance, such as financial assistance; and
(3) as it has been reported that in a similar incident that occurred in the past, although the vehicle owner concerned had repeatedly claimed compensation from the LCSD, he was asked to pursue the claims against the relevant outsourced contractors instead, and his repeated claims were still to no avail, whether the LCSD will directly bear the responsibility for this tree collapse incident; if the LCSD will bear the responsibility, whether the LCSD will take the initiative to propose settlement offer to the vehicle owners concerned and the injured, so that they need not spend time and money to claim compensation from or even sue the Government; if the LCSD will not bear the responsibility, of the reasons for that?
     The Government is committed to the proper management of tree assets to ensure healthy tree growth and at the same time emphasises the importance of public safety. In respect of the questions raised by the Hon Lai Tung-kwok, after consulting the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), our coordinated reply is as follows:
(1) Before the onset of the wet season every year, the tree management departments (the departments) conduct tree risk assessment in areas with high pedestrian and vehicular flow according to the "Guidelines for Tree Risk Assessment and Management Arrangement" (the Guidelines) issued by the Tree Management Office. The departments will take appropriate mitigation measures according to the results of the tree assessment, including crown pruning and removal of dead branches. If a tree with risks of failure is identified, the departments will remove it as soon as possible to ensure public safety.
     Like other living organisms, trees will go through stages of a life cycle, including growth, aging, sickness and death. Numerous internal physiological and external environmental factors may interact and affect tree health and stability. Unforeseeable variables inevitably exist. Tree management personnel is required to carry out detailed and professional inspections so as to ascertain the need for and draw up mitigation measures or removal plan as appropriate.
     Every year, some one million trees in areas with high pedestrian and vehicular flow were inspected by the departments. In the past three years, some 6 000 to 8 000 trees were identified every year with problems and required to be removed (about 0.6 to 0.8 per cent). We do not have particular statistics on tree removal due to trunk base decay. The LCSD re-inspected 34 roadside trees at Perth Street and confirmed that three of them needed to be removed. This ratio was higher than the annual average, but as the number of trees at Perth Street was small, this ratio is not appropriate for comparing with the overall situation in the territory.
     The Development Bureau has set up a Task Force chaired by the Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) in September this year to review the existing tree management guidelines, including the Guidelines, methods of tree inspection (including the application of technology and instruments), tree species planted along roadside, aboveground and underground growth spaces for trees, soil quality management requirements, etc. The Task Force will also monitor the workflow and implementation by the departments after tree inspections, and consider whether the relatively large trees along the existing roads are compatible with the current environment and explore the direction of treatment, and will put forward appropriate enhancement and improvement suggestions on the abovementioned issues. The Task Force plans to complete a report by the end of this year.
(2) and (3) The fallen tree at Perth Street was maintained by the LCSD, as such, the LCSD is responsible for handling the claim cases directly. The LCSD stated that it was processing the claims for compensation from the persons involved in accordance with the established mechanism as soon as possible. Of the four vehicles involved, the LCSD has contacted the four owners and received two claims for compensation (including that from the school bus' owner). The LCSD has followed up on these two claims and will continue to maintain close communication with the claimants so as to provide suitable assistance. As the cases involve claims and may result in litigation, the LCSD cannot comment on the details of the claims.
Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:35