Reprieve for 'offensive' restaurant ordered shut under obscure edict
Agnes Lam and Amy Nip
A restaurant operator who was ordered to shut up shop last month because he was operating an 'offensive trade' has won his battle with bureaucrats.
Two government departments that had accused him of breaching outdated land-use terms backed down yesterday, allowing the restaurant to continue operations.
Chung Chor-ho was told by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department last month that his restaurant - Chinese T in Stanley Street, Central - breached the 'offensive trade' clause in the land contract and that his provisional restaurant licence would be terminated unless he received an exemption from the Lands Department.
The definition of a restaurant as an offensive trade was laid down by the government more than 100 years ago. It could be a pitfall for restaurant operators not familiar with land-use terms, said Mr Chung, who has been running restaurants for more than 10 years.
'I've checked 10 restaurants located at eight different streets, and they haven't applied for exemptions from the Lands Department,' he said. According to the land contracts of buildings where the restaurants are located, they are not allowed to operate an 'offensive trade' there.
The application to the Lands Department could take up to four months, according to Mr Chung. But the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department gave him a grace period of only two weeks - not enough time to get the exemption from the other department.
However, after media publicity about his plight, he was subsequently promised an exemption by the Lands Department yesterday. His provisional restaurant licence would also stay effective, according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
A spokesman for the Lands Department said: 'Concerning the restaurant, the department has already given the applicant an offer letter, which means the application has been approved. The applicant can sign the letter and pay about HK$20,000 for administrative costs.'
He added that the 'offensive trade' term for land leases, to forbid unpleasant business operations at certain properties, had become outdated as licensing systems had developed to regulate such trades.
The department issued a statement saying: 'Landlords can therefore apply for exemption from the term so that normal business operations will not be affected.'
Anthony Lock Kwok-on, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the land-use restrictions posed a big risk for newcomers in the catering industry, especially those setting up businesses in old buildings. 'How would a restaurant be regarded as an offensive trade? The definition was ancient,' Mr Lock said.