Monday, July 9, 2007

ISA HK/China --- Comparing Town Planning Process in the UK & HK involving trees

Dear All,

This Station has been researching on the Planning Process involving trees for some time already, because it is at this important stage that arboriculture should be involved instead of the later stages where we have already seen examples of acrimony between the parties concerned. The way it is developing at present, it would only be a matter of time before legal proceedings are involved between the clients, designers & contractors for the incompetent performance of the executed trees.

Since HK has been a crown colony of Britain for over 150 years & our legal system, civil services & education are more or less based on that of the British, it would be natural to compare between the two systems in the Town Planning Process involving trees.

Attached please find the Planning Process in Britain in a simplified diagram form. In Braitain, it can be seen that for any development involving trees, the Arboricultural Officer is employed right in the beginning of the Planning Process. In fact, it is common for the Developer to employ an Arborist to be the second person to examine site & produce an Arboricultural Implication Study (AIS) just after the Land Surveyor, before the Master Planning Process involving everybody would begin. The AIS will determine what trees are to be retained, felled or transplanted based on arboricultural reasons & it will be the Council Arboricultural Officer in the Local Authority to negotiate & approve such proposal before the Master Plan is implemented. So there you have an apple taking to an apple. If any public pressure is up against the development for tree conservation or practices, it willl be these two parties to stand up & deal with them. This system has been operating since the 1990's in Britain & it seems to have gone smoothly as far as I have heard.

In Britain, there are specific laws to protect trees in great details, namely the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act, the 1991 Planning & Compensation Act, the Tree Preservation Orders (TPO), plus a whole range of govt advices, circulars, planning policy guidance notes, etc. to lay out very specific details in tree care, conservation & practices. All these are executed by qualified & experienced Arboricultural Officers who are well trained in the field & can execute the functions with proper arboricultural knowledge. The client would usually employ their own arborists to deal with such authorities.

Back in HK, we have the HK Planning Standards & Guidelines as per attached, in which Chapter 4 & Chapter 10 concern tree practices mostly. It can be seen that our Govt does have every intention to protect our tree resources by laying out good principles & intentions in developing a green Hong Kong. Then why are there frequent outcries from the public & the pressure groups that our Govt is not protecting our trees enough? My personal thinking would be that our Govt does not have a specific Arboricultural Branch to take key role upfront in the Planning Process to defend its tree practices like that in the UK. If our Govt don't bother, why should the Developers care? Then trees were topped & transplanted, or retained unnecessarily, for the happiness of all. If so is the case, then are we really protecting our trees?

Good arborist speaks with science. It will be hard to defeat him on a scientific ground if an arborist is telling the truth. The pressure groups may defeat him on social & political reasons, but can not force him to subdue on arboricutural knowledge. I sometime think that isn't it smarter for the UK Govt to employ an Arboricultural Officer to take all the eggs & tomatoes from the tree attackers. Someone has to do the dirty work anyway.

The same seems to happen in Singapore where the National Park Board (Npark) of the Singapore Govt is the leading agency for any development involving trees. They have dozens of ISA Certified Arborists in Npark & it will be hard to beat them for the opponents on scientific ground.

It may be puzzling to explain to the British, the Australians, the Japanese, the Americans or even to the Singaporeans that in our world class city of Hong Kong that we do not have an Arboricultural Branch in our Planning Process. I wonder what they would think. Or we may take an attitude that we don't care. Or maybe to at least until our brothers & sisters up north have started their own....

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

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