Urban Tree Ordinance for Hong Kong (Dec 2002)
The HKIP welcomes and supports the initiative to propose a comprehensive tree ordinance to protect the valuable trees in the urban area. The legislation will be an effective approach long needed to protect the landscape character, promote good urban design practices, and enhance the environmental quality of our city and our highly urbanized areas in Hong Kong.
Trees are part of our city’s heritage and they are also important landmarks, leisure foci, landscape elements and community features. The protection of valuable trees both on public areas as well as on private property must be put in effect through legislation. Tree protection through legislation is common policy agenda and an effective urban management tool in many major cities in the world.
We have our specific recommendations and comments as follows:
1. The comprehensive tree ordinance proposal must be supported by a community-wide educational programme. This educational campaign is needed to generate adequate public support and consensus on the need toprotect our urban trees through legislation. The Government, through the relevant departments, must initiate a series of awareness programmes to generate adequate public interest on the proposal.
2. The implementation mechanism to undertake the protection of our trees in the urban areas should be effective and efficient. Penalty provisions should be provided in the new ordinance to discourage non-compliance.
3. The preferred approach in the setting up of an enforcement and management body should be one that makes use of the existing public consultation platforms, current staff resources and present administrative processes within the Government. The need to set up new advisory body or decision-making committees to implement the ordinance may not be necessary.
4. It is important to ensure that the implementation, monitoring and enforcement mechanism is effective and fair. The implementation of the ordinance must be supported by an objective but comprehensive census of the valuable urban trees to be protected in Hong Kong. The census results must be made public. To avoid unwanted tree felling prior to the date when the tree ordinance takes effective, the Government should consider putting into effect an interim control or protection measure.
5. The maintenance responsibilities for the protected trees on private land must be clearly clarified.
6. The tree ordinance should cover all the urbanized area including the Urban Fringe and Green Belt areas outside the Country Parks. The Urban Fringe and Green Belt areas are part of the most vulnerable areas subject to development pressure.
7. The relationship and practice interface between the implementation of the proposed tree ordinance and other existing planning, land and building regulations may need to be clarified. Moreover, the feasibility of the implementation of the tree ordinance through some of the existing development approval processes such as section 16 planning applications, building regulations and building plan approvals, landscape plan approval and environmental impact assessment process should be examined.
8. In order to encourage the private landowners to protect valuable trees within their property, the Government could consider various means of levies and conditions in land leases. One example is a system of "Paying for Tree Protection" in lease conditions, similar to the existing "Pay for Safety" lease conditions in construction works. For this "Paying for Tree Protection" system, the landowner will need to pay a deposit before commencing any works on the site with the undertaking to protect the identified valuable trees during the construction process. The landowners will be paid back the deposit upon satisfactory completion of the works with the trees intact.
Public Affairs Committee
Hong Kong Institute of Planners
3 December 2002