New Link chief not to be feared, tenants told

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am

The Link Reit's chief executive has sought to allay shop tenants' fears of rent rises a day after it was announced that outgoing Hongkong Land Holdings chief executive Nicholas Sallnow-Smith will replace Paul Cheng Ming-fun as chairman of the listed company.

It is believed the new chairman, who takes office in April, will run a more market-driven model, which could see shop tenants at public housing estates paying higher prices for their stalls.

Chief executive Victor So Hing-woh yesterday denied the Children's Investment Fund Management of Britain, which has accumulated an 18.35 per cent interest in the listed company, had pressured Mr Cheng to step down.

The board of directors was satisfied with the work of the management and staff of the company, he said. The new chairman would be an asset to the company.

'The new chairman has commercial experience in managing shopping centres and has no communication problems with the board, so we can rely on his experience,' Mr So said.

'You cannot compare Hong Kong Land rents with our public housing shopping centres' rents. Our shopping centres' primary purpose is to serve the residents to meet their needs. Tenants need to co-operate with us. We are investing heavily in renovating shopping centres which have potential.'

Mr So said the number of customers would increase when the centres had been revamped.

But his comments did little to satisfy 30 tenants from Wong Tai Sin who held a meeting with officials from The Link Reit yesterday to express their concerns.

Unionist Chan Yuen-yan, who helped set up the meeting, said a congee shop in Tsz Wan Shan shopping centre had been taken over by a more upmarket operation that had increased the price of a bowl of congee from HK$6 to HK$10.

Ms Chan said tenants were worried that even if they were given priority when bidding for shop stalls, higher rent after the renovations would force them out of business.

More than 100 shopping centre tenants staged a rally yesterday calling on The Link Reit to freeze or lower rents. The protesters marched from Chater Garden to the Central Government Offices to hand a petition to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

A watchdog has criticised the government for 'sowing the seeds of this evil consequence' by relinquishing all its responsibility and control over the properties to The Link Reit. The Link Watch urged the government to consider buying back some of the shares so it could, in the public interest, have a say.

Shares in The Link Reit yesterday jumped as much as 4.52 per cent to a record HK$18.50 in the early session before falling back to end 2.15 per cent higher at HK$18.08.



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