The government has made no decision regarding the removal of 18 “sick” valuable trees and there is no timetable to do so, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po has said. Some of the trees are historic landmarks.

The removal of the 16 old trees infected with brown root rot disease – later updated to 18 – was suggested during a meeting of the government’s Expert Panel on Tree Management on April 18. Members of the panel “in principle agreed to the removal.”

The decision led to controversy as some members said they agreed to the item only because they were asked by government officials whether the trees should in general be removed if they were infected with the deadly disease, and the members were not allowed time to look into the details as the discussion only lasted a few minutes.

Kam Tin tree house. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Brown root rot disease can result in rapid health and structural deterioration of trees and may lead to the tree falling over. There is no cure for infected trees.

The most historic tree on the removal list was the Kam Tin tree house – a tree with at least 150 years of history surrounding an old brick house. It grew around the house when Kam Tin residents were forced to move away from the coast under an order from the Qing Dynasty government, and the house was abandoned.

The Conservancy Association’s chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin, a member of the expert panel, told Apple Daily last week that after his inspection, he found only four of the trees were in bad health, 12 were in fair condition, and two were in good shape – including a “King Banyan” in Kowloon Park.

Jim Chi-yung, a geography professor at the University of Hong Kong and a panel member, told the newspaper that in prior discussions on the removal of trees, the government would provide a tree inspection report, organise live inspections, and hold further discussions before making decisions.

He said the arrangement by the government for the 18 trees was rash and wrong.

“King Banyan” at the Kowloon Park.

But in response, Paul Chan said in a blog post on Sunday that he “felt baffled about the misunderstanding.” Chan, said that the panel meeting in April had in principle agreed to the removal.

He wrote that the government had asked relevant departments to submit preliminary plans for removal of the infected trees, including the resources and time required, for the consideration of the panel.

“I must stress that it does not mean we have decided to remove all 18 old and valuable trees, and we do not have a firm timetable to remove the trees. We absolutely do not intend to skip the usual practice of consulting the expert panel first,” he said.

The panel will hold a special meeting in August, reported Ming Pao. Ken So told the newspaper he will suggest only removing the four trees in bad condition.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.