LEGCO QUESTIONS

Management of turfs of public sports grounds

09 Nov 2016
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LCQ18: Management of turfs of public sports grounds

     Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council on November 9:

Question:

In July 2013, the turf of the Hong Kong Stadium (the Stadium) became muddy after an international friendly soccer match had been held there.  In August of the same year, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) set up an Expert Group on the Hong Kong Stadium Turf Pitch (the Expert Group) to offer professional advice on how to enhance the turf quality of the Stadium.  Following the Expert Group’s recommendation, LCSD started works to reconstruct the entire turf system of the Stadium in 2015.  The works project was completed in July 2015.  Nevertheless, it has been reported earlier that the turf of the Stadium was beset by problems such as loose soil and moss growth after two soccer matches had been held in late September this year.  Besides, it has been reported that LCSD has offered high salary earlier to engage an overseas expert to Hong Kong, who was specially tasked to impart knowledge of turf maintenance to LCSD staff.  However, a staff member who has received the training was subsequently transferred out to manage other facilities.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the expenditures involved in the maintenance and management of the turf of the Stadium since 2013; among which, of the respective amounts met by government funds and the funding from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, with a breakdown by expenditure item;

(2) whether LCSD has, since 2013, regularly inspected the quality of the turfs of the Stadium and other sports grounds; if LCSD has, of the inspection mechanism, criteria and outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) of the details (including the number of staff members specially tasked to undertake such work, with a breakdown by the total amount of the monthly salary and allowance of staff member) of the human resources allocated currently by LCSD to manage the turf of the Stadium and train staff who manage the turf;

(4) of the details of the monthly salary, allowance and duties of the aforesaid overseas expert engaged by LCSD; and whether LCSD has carried out a value-for-money assessment on the post; if LCSD has carried out such an assessment, of the outcome;

(5) of the justifications for LCSD to transfer out the local staff member who has acquired turf maintenance knowledge from the in-house turf management team despite the fact that the turf quality of the Stadium was found to be poor; and

(6) of the details of the work of the Expert Group; the number of meetings held by the Group so far; whether LCSD has assessed the effectiveness of the work of the Expert Group; if LCSD has, of the outcome?

Reply:

President,

The Government attaches great importance to the quality and maintenance of the Hong Kong Stadium (HKS) turf pitch.  The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) set up the Expert Group on the Hong Kong Stadium Turf Pitch (the Expert Group) in August 2013 to provide professional advice on how to enhance the quality of the turf pitch.  On the recommendation of the Expert Group, the LCSD decided to reconstruct the turf pitch to enhance its quality and durability in the long term.  The scope of works involved complete removal of the original turf and soil, replacement of the underground irrigation and drainage systems, reconstruction of a new pitch reinforced sand profile and laying of new turf.  The project cost, in the order of $31 million, was fully funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust while the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) provided comprehensive technical support for the professional and efficient delivery of the project.  Apart from consulting the Expert Group, the LCSD also established a task force to monitor and oversee the project.  The project commenced in April 2015 and the HKS reopened in November of the same year.

A number of soccer and rugby matches have been staged at the HKS since its reopening in November 2015.  The conditions of its turf pitch are generally satisfactory, especially that of its drainage system, which has been working effectively.  Regarding the media report on algae and loosening of turf found on the HKS turf pitch during a Hong Kong Premier League match in late September 2016, the LCSD has found that there was no abnormal loosening of turf during the match, and that the wear and tear to the turf was also considered normal in general.  The algae mentioned in the media report was mainly found outside the playing field of the pitch.  To draw up a more effective plan for the maintenance of the turf pitch in summer next year, the LCSD adopted two different methods of turf establishment after the end of the 2015-16 soccer season to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of different maintenance plans.  Stolons of Bermuda grass were planted and grass seeds were sown at the same time in the field of play while only grass seeds were sown outside the field of play.  The particularly rainy and humid weather in August and September this year affected the normal growth and coverage of Bermuda grass at the pitch, resulting in poorer grass coverage and relatively more algae growth in areas outside the field of play.  Thus, the maintenance method of planting grass and overseeding at the same time has proved to be more effective.  In view of the situation, the LCSD has enhanced topdressing at the pitch and stepped up spiking to improve aeration and drainage.  Growth lights and chemicals have also been used in turf maintenance to improve the growing environment and control the growth of algae.  During a match of the Hong Kong Premier League held on October 22, the conditions of the turf pitch were satisfactory.

From the experience and observations gained from turf maintenance carried out in summer 2016, the underground rhizome system of the new turf of HKS is still at the development stage one year after the reconstruction.  The sand-based soil needs accumulation of more organic matter in order to preserve the nutrients in the soil.  It is expected that the turf will take longer time to grow more steadily and reach maturity.  In fact, turf pitches normally require at least three years of seasonal change to reach maturity and maintain a more stable state.  The LCSD has used advanced technology and ancillary equipment such as growth lights and ventilating fans to enhance the effectiveness of turf maintenance.  With the adoption of a stricter approach to scheduling events and activities, and giving more time for the turf to recover between events and activities, the turf quality of the HKS can be constantly maintained at a high level.

My reply to the question raised by the Hon Kenneth Leung is as follows:

(1) and (3) LCSD staff are responsible for the maintenance and management of the turf pitch of the HKS.  Routine turf maintenance is carried out by a six-man core team of the department, consisting of one Amenities Assistant I, one Senior Artisan and four Artisans, who have received horticulture training or professional training on turf maintenance and have working experience in this respect.  The monthly mid-point salaries of Amenities Assistant I, Senior Artisan and Artisan are $32,470, $20,060 and $17,685 respectively.  The six-man core team is supervised by three tiers of Leisure Services Manager Grade officers who have experience on turf management or possess relevant qualifications.  In the past three years (i.e. from 2013-14 to 2015-16), the average annual recurrent expenditure of the LCSD on the maintenance of the HKS turf pitch was about $2.5 million, including direct staff (e.g. salary) and material costs.  Turf growth lights and turf fans were also procured by the LCSD to enhance the maintenance of the turf pitch.

The LCSD set up a specialised Sports Turf Management Section (STMS) in 2014-15 to offer professional advice and technical support for all the natural turf pitches managed by the LCSD, in particular the HKS and other pitches designated for the Hong Kong Premier League matches.  The annual staff cost of the STMS is about $3.4 million.  Furthermore, the LCSD provides in-depth and systematic training courses on turf management and maintenance for staff of various ranks, including those of the HKS.  In 2016-17, in addition to in-house training courses for some 300 staff, the LCSD will provide training opportunities for 190 staff to pursue three overseas programmes and two local programmes to enhance their expertise and knowledge in the field.  The estimated expenditure involved is about $1.4 million in 2016-17.

(2)  The staff responsible for the maintenance of the turf pitch of the HKS and other natural turf pitches carry out routine turf maintenance work according to the LCSD’s established guidelines, taking into account the conditions in different growing seasons and months of the year.  The work includes watering, mowing, weeding, pest and disease control, fertilising, scarifying, aerating, topdressing and turf repair, etc.  To enhance the monitoring of pitch quality, the LCSD has been conducting monthly performance testing of pitch quality, which covers grass coverage, grass height, mass root depth, thatch depth and soil pH value, etc.  Assessment results show that the turf quality indicators generally meet the required standards.  The turf quality of the HKS and other natural turf football pitches are now showing progressive improvement.

(4) The Head of the STMS of the LCSD is recruited through an international search and his monthly salary and cash allowance are $112,255 and $30,240 respectively.  His duties include following-up on the turf pitch reconstruction works for the HKS through offering professional advice on pitch design and turf maintenance, especially the use of advanced technology and ancillary equipment such as growth lights and ventilating fans for turf.  Besides, the Head conducts frequent inspections of natural turf pitches managed by the LCSD, in particular those designated for the Hong Kong Premier League, and offers advice on turf management and maintenance.  He also helps the department to formulate the best modes of operation for sports turf maintenance and training strategies to enhance the internal professional training and development with respect to turf management and maintenance, and to facilitate the sharing and transfer of knowledge.  Through the efforts mentioned above, the overall turf quality of pitches managed by the LCSD has been generally improved.

(5)  As the LCSD is responsible for the management of a variety of sports and recreational facilities, it is necessary for its staff of different grades to be equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills.  Timely staff deployment and training are common and effective practices in human resources management to broaden the staff’s horizons, enrich their work experience and help meet the department’s operational and long-term development needs.  Routine maintenance of the turf of the HKS is supervised by officers who possess professional qualifications in turf maintenance and management.  The natural turf pitches provided by the department in various districts are now managed and maintained by some 400 staff.  The STMS provides professional expertise and technical support for the natural turf pitches managed by the LCSD, in particular the HKS and other pitches designated for the Hong Kong Premier League matches.  The STMS is also tasked with facilitating the sharing and transfer of knowledge and experience, as well as strengthening the training of staff.

(6) The Expert Group, set up on August 30, 2013, is composed of experts on turf pitches from Hong Kong and the Mainland, and representatives of the HKJC, the Hong Kong Football Association, Hong Kong Rugby Union and the relevant government departments.  The Group has held five meetings so far and the most recent one was held on March 3, 2016.  Apart from that, several site inspections were conducted to exchange views.  The Expert Group had had detailed discussions on many aspects, including the reconstruction works for the HKS turf pitch in 2015-16 (which involved the design of drainage and irrigation systems, selection of grass species, etc.) and other matters concerning the medium- and long-term improvement measures for enhancing the quality of the turf pitch, as well as its daily management and maintenance.  The Expert Group had given their professional and valuable advice on the above matters.