Central hawkers fear for the future

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am

Assurances on development doubted

The destiny of hawkers at the city's oldest street market remains unclear under a plan to redevelop Peel and Graham streets in Central, despite the Urban Renewal Authority's assurances that those affected would be able to move back.

A panel set up to calm fears that the redevelopment would destroy the heritage in the area met for the first time yesterday.

Yau Luk Chiu-ying, the only hawkers' representative on the authority's 10-member conservation advisory panel, said: 'No one has ever given us any promise that we will be allowed to move back.

'Judging from what had happened to hawkers in Wan Chai's outdoor market, I doubt if we can return in the future. What is clear is that the old-shop street the authority wants to build in Graham Street will ban fresh goods.'

The controversial project that conservationists fear will destroy part of the city's heritage covers an area of just over half a hectare bordered by Cochrane, Gage and Wellington streets. It includes the market, which is nearly 140 years old and runs through Peel, Graham and Gage streets.

Under the plan submitted to the board, two residential blocks of 30 and 32 storeys will be built over a four-storey podium. There also will be a 33-storey office tower and a 26-storey hotel on top of two more four-storey podiums. Shops will be housed in the podiums.

Cars will have access to the hotel and office tower at the back of the nearly 100-year-old Wing Woo Ho grocery store. Only the external walls of the store will be preserved.

These walls will form an entrance to the 'old shop street' along Graham Street; new structures in the style of old Chinese tenements will be built in the street. Three pre-war buildings at the other end of the street will be preserved.

Views are divided over the plan. Residents want it to go ahead, while shop owners are unconvinced.

Michael Ma Chiu-chi, the authority's director of planning and design, said: 'We tried to invite more hawkers to join the panel but they are too busy to attend our meetings.'

Kan Kee, who has retired and is a resident's representative, said: 'The environment is very bad here. We hope the redevelopment will start as soon as possible.'

The authority has not reduced the scale of the redevelopment plan despite reservations by the Architectural Services Department, submitted to the Town Planning Board, that high-rises would be 'quite bulky and massive'.

In its submission to the board, they expressed particular concern about the office tower.

The department also demanded the authority provide photo-montages of the whole development to prove it would not be visually incompatible with the old area. The board will examine the plan tomorrow.