Stallholders face rent rises after three-year freeze

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 12:00am

About 90 per cent of 12,200 stallholders at public markets face rent increases next year under a government proposal outlined yesterday.

Public market rent would gradually be increased until it came into line with levels at private markets, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department assistant director Warner Cheuk Wing-hing said.

But the rent freeze introduced in January 1998 at public markets, which has cost the Government an estimated $10 million in foregone revenue, would be extended a further six months until the end of this year.

Mr Cheuk told Legco's Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene panel that 20 per cent of stallholders faced a $200 per month rental increase under the proposal, while 70 per cent would be subject to a smaller rise.

A review of public market rents, launched after the abolition of the two municipal councils in 1999, found that rents were 'significantly below' the private rate.

The review recommended gradually increasing rents until they reached private levels, with annual increases capped at 20 per cent of existing rents.

Legislators criticised the proposed increase, however, saying it would affect the livelihoods of stallholders.

Democrat Yeung Sum said stallholders faced tough competition from supermarkets, and the economy had not fully recovered from the Asian economic crisis.

Lau Kong-wah of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong said it would be wrong to link public market rent to private rent.

'Facilities at the old public markets are relatively poor and it would be unfair to ask those stallholders to pay at the market value,' Mr Lau said.

Deputy Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Sarah Wu Po-chu said facilities at the public markets would be taken into consideration when evaluating the rent.

The Government will consult the industry and the District Councils on the proposal and officials will discuss the issue with lawmakers again in October.

A decision is expected to be made at the end of the year.