Did highways department mislead public on tree felling saga?

August 12, 2015 12:22
Only the roots of the four Banyan trees remain on the stone wall along Bonham Road. Photo: HKEJ

A government agency's revelation has raised more questions on the Highways Department's move to chop down four old Chinese Banyan trees in Mid-Levels last week, Ming Pao Daily reported on Wednesday.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) said the stone wall on Bonham Road, which held the roots of the trees, is stable and structurally safe.  

The Highways Department had earlier said it decided to chop down the Banyan trees after cracks were found on the wall.

The Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) under the CEDD said the stone wall consists of two parts, with the lower half serving as a retaining wall that holds the roots of the trees.

The cracks that the Highways Department found are in the upper half of the wall, the GEO said, adding that it required no emergency maintenance.

Many Hong Kong residents have assailed the government's move to axe the trees, calling it cruel and ill-advised.

The Highways Department said on Tuesday the decision to cut down the trees was made by its tree experts after consulting the tree management office of the Development Bureau.

Former GEO head Raymond KS Chan pointed out that the crack lines on the wall were old ones, while no new cracks were spotted.

Chan said that after a personal inspection of the wall, he believes that it is structurally safe.

It is the health of the trees that should be the main factor to consider in deciding whether they should be taken down, he said.

If they were healthy, there should have been no rush in axing the trees, he added.

The Highways Department on Tuesday said it had observed 16 crack lines on the stone wall with the biggest one being two centimeters wide.

However, it admitted for the first time that the stone wall did not present any immediate danger or showed signs of instability.

The agency insisted that it decided to cut the trees last Friday in the interest of public safety.

Professor Jim Chi-yung from the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Geography, who also sits on the Development Bureau’s expert panel on tree management, said the Highways Department had simply overreacted.

Jim said he suspects the government agency was merely trying to avoid responsibilities for any accident that might happen should the trees collapse.

That could have been the reason why it decided to cut down the trees without sufficient scientific backing for its concern that they posed a public hazard.

Ken So Kwok-yin, another member of the expert panel on tree management, said the tree management office has no authority to stop other government agencies from cutting down trees and was even used as the scapegoat for the blunder.

So called for a review of the functions and responsibilities of the tree management office.

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