Axe looms for businesses after three decades

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am


In an alley hidden in the heart of Kwun Tong, the future of about 30 small businesses facing redevelopment is up in the air, with owners feeling that they have been deprived of the compensation they deserve.

While hundreds of licensed hawkers and shop owners in the neighbourhood have been promised relocation or cash compensation by the Urban Renewal Authority, the businesses in Yan Shun Lane complain that the URA has forgotten them - even though they are also affected by what is the largest redevelopment project planned by the authority.

Officials said these makeshift shops - which had existed for more than three decades - occupied government land and were therefore not entitled to compensation. But the businesses said the shops were built with their own hands and money.

Leung Kam-hung runs one of the few, if not the only, pigeon shops in the city since he bought the store with his family for HK$200,000 in 1979. The shop, built with bricks and metal sheets, sells pigeons that Leung imports from Europe, with some cross-bred by himself. He has patrons interested in pigeon racing on the mainland.

'I've played with pigeons here since I was 14. Now I'm almost 50. Now this place is going to be cleared and no one has told me what to do. I feel really lost.' He said he would prefer continuing his business in another place rather than receiving cash.

According to the shopkeepers in the lane, the cluster was formed in the 1960s and '70s, when hawkers dotted the streets in Kwun Tong as well as the rest of the city.

The government then cracked down on hawkers to improve streetscapes. Some vendors escaping the raids moved into this back alley and built makeshift shops.

While other hawkers moved into two government-designated marketplaces nearby, the people in Yan Shun Lane were not granted hawker licences, since they were not regarded as mobile vendors.

But officials, tending to see them as squatters, tolerated them for years, until a redevelopment plan came up.

Now these 30 businesses have become an unresolved problem for the renewal project.

The URA project has to relocate 1,788 families and will yield 2,000 new flats by 2019. The URA has so far acquired 88 per cent of property ownerships in the redevelopment area.

While those on the two government marketplaces will be relocated to a bazaar in the future development, which was a URA initiative to preserve local character, the Yan Shun Lane stalls will be excluded.

Lau Chun-mui, 83, who has runs his one-man hair salon in Yan Shun Lane since the 1970s, said: 'I know from the news there have been court cases in which a person has the right to stay on a piece of land if the owner has not used it for a long time. Don't think I'm stupid.'

A URA spokesman said it had not offered compensation for Yan Shun Lane businesses as they were occupants without legal status.

'We are in discussions with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Lands Department in the hope of finding a solution for the businesses,' he said, adding that there would be no clearance action in the lane for the time being.

Nelson Chan Wah-yu, leading an urban-renewal task force under the Kwun Tong District Council, said people in Yan Shun Lane had all their living tied to the place and the URA should take care of them.