Restaurants to see cuts in sewage surcharge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am

More than 13,000 business operators, including those in the catering industry, will pay lower sewage surcharges while others will see a modest rise, part of an exercise to revise benchmarks for pollution generated by different trades.

The news comes as the government is set to raise the basic sewage charge 9.3 per cent from April 1 as part of a 10-year plan to recoup most of the sewage treatment costs.

A government source yesterday said the Environmental Protection Department had completed a review to benchmark the pollution levels of 30 trades and industries that discharged effluent.

The review sought to determine how much surcharge different types of businesses should pay on top of the basic sewage charge, which is based on the amount of water consumed.

It concluded that 14 of the 30 trades would see their fees cut, while the remaining 16 would face a modest increase.

In particular, the catering and restaurant trade - the strongest critic of the surcharge - was likely to see fees slashed substantially, as technological advances had helped operators reduce pollution significantly.

At least two local wine-making operators, however, would have to pay a little more. The extent of the changes has not been revealed.

The source said the revised surcharges would mean a slightly heavier burden on the government to shoulder the sewage-treatment costs of some businesses.

It now recoups about 80 per cent of the cost of treating business waste. Its long-term objective is 100 per cent cost recovery. It collected a total of HK$700 million in sewage charges and a further HK$210 million in surcharges from businesses in 2006-07.

The source said officials aimed to propose the revised surcharge to the legislature next month and hoped to implement it in August.

About 18,000 operators in 30 trades now pay effluent surcharges, about 13,500 of them in the catering and restaurant sector.

Operators in that trade had been complaining about overcharging and are unhappy about costly procedures in appealing against charges they see as excessive.

In response to that, environment officials last year simplified the appeal procedures to make the process more affordable.

Howard Lo Hoi-wan, of the Association of Hong Kong Catering Services Management, welcomed the surcharge decrease but hoped it would be 30 to 40 per cent.

'A majority of the operators feel the surcharge is unfair to them as many of them have invested to upgrade their anti-pollution facilities,' Mr Lo said.

But he said there might not be much room for catering businesses to return the savings to customers because water fees accounted for just 1 to 2 per cent of their total operating costs. The bulk of the operating expenditure went to rents and wages, he said.

'We have to wait and see how much the reduction is before we can consider if we may adjust our prices,' Mr Lo said.