The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared the government of any wrongdoing in two reports it published on tree management and removal practices.

The removal of four trees growing in a wall along Bonham Road last August, after a tree along the same wall fell in a rainstorm, resulted in public protests. The report into their removal concluded that there was “no misconduct in the Highways Department’s decision to remove the trees,”  according to Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday.

Photo: Sai Wan Concern.

“Everyone believes that it is very sad, but the Highways Department’s decision was not without reason,” said Lau, “because compared to trees that grow on the ground, trees that grow on stone walls have very different environments. The risk of accidents happening is also higher.”

The report said that the decision for removal was not “unreasonable” and that there were “signs of imminent deterioration within a matter of three days between 5 and 7 August 2015, and the situation should not be taken lightly as the trees might collapse anytime” under unstable weather.

Ombudsman Connie Lau. Photo: GovHK

The office suggested that the Tree Management Office “find ways to heighten public awareness of the potential danger posed by certain kinds of trees.” It also said that the Development Bureau should “clearly record opinions of the Expert Panel and make them known to the public to enhance transparency and accountability.”

‘Serious delay’

In its separate investigation into tree management practices, the office also noted that there was “serious delay on the part of both Lands D[epartment] and its contractors in handling reports by the public”. It said that the Tree Management Office could “consider positioning itself as the reviewing body for any inadequacies in Government departments’ handling of public complaints/reports” so as to direct departments responsible to act on public complaints or reports on trees to take appropriate measures.

Fallen banyan tree on Bonham Road that lead to the removal of four other trees. Photo: Alvin Poon.

The report also added that there was limited regulation and a lack of legislation for managing trees on private land.

The office made 11 recommendations, including supplementing the criteria for tree risk assessment, and including completing necessary preparations so that legislation “for comprehensive and more effective regulation of tree management and preservation in Hong Kong.”

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Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.