Thursday, March 26, 2009

ISA HK/China --- A study on the Parks and Trees Act (2005) of Singapore


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Dear Station Members,

In HK for years, Tree Lovers have cried out to demand the legislation of Tree Law to preserve & protect our trees. Some think that with a set of Tree Law in place, our trees will be designed, installed, maintained, inspected & protected properly. Unfortunately over the years, few solid proposals have been put forward as how to draft up such a complicated & important Law. Most appeared to want it out of passion or sentiment, but not knowing the impact of having such a Law in our society.

ISA HK/China has taken a little time to research into a relevant set of such Law in Singapore called the Parks & Trees Act (PTA) of 2005 which may serve as a useful reference for our Tree Lovers. The full contents of the PTA can be downloaded from:

The PTA does not appear to be written in difficult legal language. Anyone with reasonable English should be able to understand it with ease. It is +45 pages long, depending on where you would start reading it.

Please note ISA HK/China has only an amateur ability to understand the PTA & please do not take our message as gospels but with your own interpretation. Flexibility must be allowed & contemplation must be given while understanding the PTA for any consideration.

Highlights of our review of this excellent PTA are given below without commitment for sharing with our Station Members:

1. The PTA has a well defined position & hierarchy in the Singapore Greenery System. A Commissioner of Parks & Recreation is appointed by a Minister (Minister of National Development?, as it is not stated in the PTA) to issue working instructions to the National Parks Board (Nparks) which is the leading agency in executing the PTA. Nparks itself is ordained under the National Parks Board Act of 2005 for its functions & duties.

2. Restricted activities in respect of trees, plants, etc. in national parks & nature reserves in Para 8 & 9 of PTA are similar to that of the HK AFCD regulations.

3. Para 13 of PTA has empowered the Minister to designate a Tree Conservation Area anywhere in Singapore if it is 'in the interests of amenity to make provision for the conservation of trees'. Wouldn't the Tree Lovers of HK be overjoyed to hear this if the same would be applied in HK?

4. Para 14 will restrict any Tree Cutting having girth of more than 1m in any vacant land besides in Tree Conservation Area, without approval. There is currently no regulation in HK to prevent cutting trees belonging to private owners in private land no matter what size they may be.

5. Para 15 gives the Commissioner power to serve a Tree Conservation Notice in any vacant land in Singapore ' to maintain or conserve the tree or group of trees' there. There is currently no equivalence of such practice in HK especially for private tree owners.

6. Para 19 requires the Road Authority to consult Nparks before carrying out any work or activities within a Heritage Road Green Buffer. In a way, certain road work can not proceed without agreement of the Greenery Authority in Singapore.

7. Para 20 stipulates the application procedures to cut trees & plants under the PTA. The application is required to be made to the Commissioner ' in such form or manner as may be prescribed '. This clause allows flexibility in the application procedures rather than listing out rigid forms & orders to be filled in, & the application format can change to cope with practical needs. Under section 4b of Para 20, the Commissioner has the right to grant approval 'as he thinks fit'; & under section 5, revocation may be required ' if he is satisfied ....'. This, in a way, is giving authority to the Commissioner the sole power to decide upon any tree cutting application, rather than to consult the many parties or interest groups like in HK. Naturally it is believed that the Commissioner would not grant such approval without consulting expert opinions from Nparks, & Nparks is known to be full of Arborists to look after their trees in Singapore.

8. Para 21 has listed out the requirements in reinstating damaged plantings in the form of Reinstatement Notices by the Commissioner. Section (c) of this Para has given guidelines for restoration as ' to restore any part of the heritage road green buffer to its former state or, if such restoration is not reasonably practicable or is undesirable....'. This is giving flexibility in restoration, which is similar to the so-called 'Compensatory Planting' in HK, not to be in the strict 1 : 1 ratio; but to the review & decision of the Commissioner under apparent consultation with Nparks, which would alternatively rely on their +150 Arborists for decision in Tree Planting.

9. Para 23 (1) (a) & (b) has given guidelines on how to install planting area in development in Singapore to be ' not more than 2m wide...' or 'not more than 5m wide from the front boundary of the premises adjoining or abutting a public street '.

10. Under section (3) of Para 23, the Minister may ' prescribe different dimensions of planting areas for different classes or descriptions of premises...' , & this notification shall be ' presented to Parliament...' . This just shows how serious Singapore is taking their greenery proposal all the way up to Parliamentary level.

11. Para 24 (1) states that ' No person shall, except with the approval of the Commissioner..... commence or carry out, or permit or authorize the commencement or carrying out of any building work on those premises.' This can be interpreted as no builder's work can commence until the Planting Plan is approved under the PTA.

12. Para 25 concerns the responsibility of maintaining Planting Area. It describes that ' It shall be the duty of the occupier of the premises... to maintain the planting area, .... The Commissioner may, .... require the occupier .... to carry out such work to the planting area o any part of it as he thinks fit...'. This ensures the Planting Area under the description is properly cared for by the premises owner.

13. Para 26 describes how the Planting Areas are not to be interfered or penalties will be imposed.

14. Para 27 provides enforcement for Greenery Protection. It states in section (1) that ' Commissioner may at any time serve on the occupier of any premises... to do all or any of the following within the green margin of those premises...'. The kind of work to be carried out such as planting or re-planting, maintenance, weeding, etc. are given. In section (2), ' No person shall, at any time, cut or damage any tree or plant which has been planted....', unless it ' constitutes an immediate threat to life or property.' This is similar to the HK guidelines that trees posing immediate danger can be removed without prior notice.

15. Para 30 concerns the provision of Green Verges on public street. Under section (3), ' ....or no green verges are made up in respect of those construction work, .... an enforcement notice in writing requiring him to make up such green verges ...'. Then in section(4), the ' Road Authority shall, before commencing or carrying out, or permitting or authorizing... of any construction work... by or under any written law, consult the Commissioner in respect thereof.'. This again appears to confirm that road work in Singapore would require agreement of the Commissioner before commencement if greenery has become an issue

16. Para 31 concerns street works affecting Green Verges. The Commissioner ' may serve a reinstatement notice on any person who appears to the Commissioner to have been responsible for or have participated in anything done in contravention of that subsection requiring the person to remedy (wholly or in part) the contravention.'

17. Para 32 deals with the specification & approval procedures in greenery application. Section (1) (a) has intelligently allowed flexibility in the submission by not stating rigid formats in application procedures, but to provide ' in such form & manner as the Commissioner may require'. This then allows the Commissioner to pick the best & most suitable format in submission to suit practical needs. Singapore has nearly zero corruption & this clause would work for them well. Section (2) allows the Commissioner to require the plans ' to be made or certified by a qualified person' ,& not stating which particular landscape professional (Horticulturist, Arborist, Landscape Designer, etc.) is required. The 'qualified person' in PTA is either the Architect or the Engineer, & the Commissioner would let them pick whichever landscape professional that would be acceptable to the Commissioner for making the planting proposal. In this respect, Arborists are likely to be employed by the 'qualified person' to deal with Tree Design & Selection, Tree Planting & Maintenance, Tree Inspection & Protection; since Nparks reviewing the plan under the Commissioner will be full of Arborists themselves to talk on the same subject.

18. Para 37 concerns trees & plants obstructing traffic. Authority is given to the Commissioner to ' serve an enforcement notice requiring the occupier of the premises to take such measures as the Commissioner thinks fit ' to rectify the situation. Here again, it will be up to the tree owner to employ whatever landscape professional acceptable to the Commissioner to do work complying with the Commissioner's notice. Then as such, Arborists are likely to be appointed to carry out Tree Work such as pruning, removal or transplanting for the rectification, & not by common gardeners.

19. Para 39 deals the power to require information in respect of contravention. The Commissioner has the authority to ' serve an information notice to require any person.....with information relating to that case in the possession or within the knowledge of that person'. Since no exemption clause appears to exist to exclude anybody in this Para, it may indicate to even include Govt Officers in other agencies to be under the scrutiny. This then provides the Commissioner a paramount authority to demand information from anybody if a contravention has appeared anywhere before him within his jurisdiction.

20. Para 40 further provides the Commissioner the authority to ' enter any land ' to investigate any suspected contravention, including demanding the identity of the suspect.

21. Para 41 provides the Commissioner the power to ' arrest, without warrant, any person who has offence under this Act....' under certain condition. A person arrested under this section ' may be detained ' until his name & address are correctly ascertained.

22. In the other Paras of Part VIII of the PTA, penalties & offences are clearly defined for breach of this Act. It appears that the final judgment will be by the Court Judge & the offenders are likely to appear in Court in the case of a contravention.

23. In Part IX of the PTA, the appealing procedures, exemption, service of documents, etc. are given. It is also interesting to learn that in Para 63, ' The Board (Nparks) may,......, make regulations for carrying out the purposes & provisions of this Act.' This is giving Nparks the convenience to make technical judgment for future variation.

In summary, to the interest of ISA HK/China as an Arboricultural Organization, the relevant advantages of the PTA appeared to rest in the following areas:

a. The PTA has set up a simple structure of having a Commissioner who may be an Administrative Officer, to rely on a single Govt Agency (Nparks) for technical consultation in greenery matters, & not favouring any particular landscape profession in greenery issues (In fact, favouring any particular landscape profession may actually infringe the Law of Equal Opportunities in HK). Nparks in turn possess a range of landscape professionals to do the work. Trees are known to be the responsibilities of the +150 Arborists in Nparks from design, installation, maintenance, inspection to preservation.

b. The PTA does not instruct a rigid framework in their submission procedure or format, but rather in a manner suitable to meet the practical need of the situation at time of application. This allows flexibility & aims straight to the target as deemed required by the circumstances encountered.

c. The duties & responsibilities of each of the parties (Govt & public) concerned are clearly defined, with penalties laid out for Court decision. Everyone knows where he stands in front of the Act.

d. The Commissioner is empowered to overlook all greenery matters in construction & development. He has the authority to demand information from anybody including Govt Depts & is required to be consulted before certain construction is due to begin. Greenery matters can be brought up to Parliamentary level by law if necessary .

For those of us who would take the effort to study into this excellent PTA, they may now begin to realize why the trees in Singapore are so well planted. Trees in Singapore are an icon in the region, & have consistently been admired by the people of HK.

There have been a lot of ISA Research on the benefits of trees including helping patients to recover faster, building a more harmonious society & reducing crime in neighborhood. Having good trees around is not just an environmental issue but also a social sentiment nowadays. Singapore has long appreciated this fact & has built their country with good Tree Planting over the years, which has also helped develop their Tourist Industry. Trees in Singapore are looked after well by their Arborists & their contribution has been invaluable indeed.

This Station Mail may invite comments from our Station Members in HK, like a range of our other discussion in many topics. On the other hand, would anyone sending enquiries in please kindly note our circulation policy at the top of this message before sending?

Thank you for your kind attention.

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

"If a tree is not designed, installed, maintained & inspected properly, it is likely to become a liability rather than an asset."

"Trees are good for the community. Trees need care like human beings. Arborists are the Tree Care Professionals."