Upstairs bars could face tighter rules on licensing
Cheung Chi-fai and Martin Wong
Upstairs bars may face stricter liquor licensing rules as the government considers tougher measures to tackle violent crime, fire safety and public nuisance concerns.
The Food and Health Bureau is considering options to tighten the licensing of upstairs bars - defined as those selling liquor from multi-storey buildings originally built as office blocks, or in mixed-use buildings.
While the bureau has no concrete proposals at this stage, it has not ruled out placing more licensing restrictions on such bars, particularly those in 'certain high-risk targeted buildings'.
In a submission to lawmakers, the bureau highlights the option of making a risk assessment which aims to grade buildings according to the number of bars, the crime rate in the area, nuisance issues such as noise and the layout of the block.
Based on this grading, tighter rules may be imposed on those with a higher risk, such as capping the number of bars allowed to operate, or limiting customer capacity.
The bureau said more stringent regulations were needed not just because of public nuisance, noise, or hygiene issues, but because such bars are more prone to crime than others. 'We need to ensure the safety of other users in these buildings will not be compromised by the irresponsible drinking behaviour of the customers of upstairs bars,' the bureau said in the submission.
It also cited police figures showing that of the 2,593 crime cases related to premises serving liquor last year, 668 involved violence.
Eleven per cent of those crimes occurred in upstairs bars.
There are 400 licensed upstairs bars in Hong Kong, most of them in Yau Tsim Mong, Wan Chai and Central.
Tong Wing-sze, a bar owner in a Causeway Bay office building where 70 per cent of the space is occupied by bars, said existing rules were already tight for upstairs bars. 'We have enough regulations and there is no need for more,' she said.
Tong said the Liquor Licensing Board, which scrutinises and approves licences for selling and consuming alcohol, was taking a tougher stance in considering applications, while law enforcement agencies such as the Fire Services Department also conducted thorough inspections.
'There are already caps on the number of bars in some buildings now and the firemen also come more frequently to inspect fire safety risks,' she said.
Board member Simon Wong Ka-wo said more regulations would not necessarily hurt bar operators.
'We have seen cases in which potential investors were denied a licence only after they finished renovating their bars and were ready for business because the board believed the building should not house more bars,' he said.
'If the board is able to tell in advance if a building has reached the cap ... the operator can look for other places and avoid potential losses.'
We need to ensure safety ... will not be compromised by the irresponsible drinking behaviour
Food and Health Bureau, in a submission to lawmakers