Sunday, 30 August 2015

Trying to Rectify Bad Optics

People leave notes for the chopped down trees near Bonham Road
How nice of Hong Kong's Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po to finally come out and admit that cutting down four 100-year-old Banyan trees two weeks ago in Sai Ying Pun "seemed to be done in haste" and vowed to improve how these decisions are made in the future.

"There is room for improvement," he said in an RTHK interview. "It did cause a public outrage."


Dozens of people came out to St Stephen's Lane near Bonham Road to mourn the deaths of the trees, that were cut down overnight by the Highway Department without much discussion, even among tree experts and government officials. Many more people expressed outrage online.

Paul Chan admits the trees were chopped down in haste
While experts later confirmed the trees needed to be chopped down for safety reasons, Chan admitted the swift actions left a bad impression.

"It seems things were done in haste. Some people even felt that we chose to do it at night since we wanted to do it stealthily," he said.

Well, yes! The optics were not good...

Last Friday, Central and Western district councillor Wong Kin-shing said he had only been informed of the authority's decision to fell the trees in an email sent minutes before the Chinese banyans were chopped down on the evening of August 7.

Chan says a review is being conducted on improving communication between government departments about cutting down trees, especially those listed as "old and valuable" in the tree register.

How about doing a proper assessment of trees that may cause potential dangers to residents, particularly those that grow out of stone walls. There are more than 300 such trees in the city, 220 of which are in Central and Western.

Forbes Street in Kennedy Town has Banyan trees on the wall
Now every time when I walk along Forbes Street towards the Kennedy Town MTR station I wonder if the Banyan trees there are going to crack and fall...

But it also seems like tree experts here can't seem to accurately read the health of trees and when something happens to them, they had been checked a year or a few months earlier and pronounced to be healthy.

What gives?

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