Be more flexible on use of industrial buildings
In space-starved Hong Kong, it makes little sense to restrict all activities in old industrial blocks that are already underutilised
The restrictions on use of industrial buildings in Hong Kong is threatening the survival of premises such as restaurants, gyms, artisan shops, art galleries, learning centres and performance venues. Due to space constraints and soaring rents, many businesses have moved into old high-rise blocks built for industrial use. While their operations may breach land lease conditions or safety rules, they are testimony of adaptation and innovation. As long as they do no pose severe threats to public safety, there is no reason why the government should not give them more leeway.
The imminent closure of Ping Pong Savantas, a table tennis training centre in a Tai Wai industrial building, is just the latest example of how rigid rules and enforcement can kill off legitimate activities and businesses.
Together with two centres also located inside industrial buildings elsewhere, the three venues have been training 14 of the 32 members of the city’s youth ping pong team and some 1,320 students from 33 schools. But the centre has been told to shut down before Monday, after it repeatedly ignored warnings by the Lands Department over the past nine months.
The building in question is one of the 15 targeted by the department following the deadly Ngau Tau Kok industrial building fire last year. While there is a case for the government to step up enforcement action against activities and businesses that involve serious breaches of safety, the impact on users cannot be ignored. The director of the table tennis centre said there was no choice but to operate illegally, referring to the shortage of public sports grounds in Sha Tin and the difficulties in booking other venues. There are only 10 tables for the 660,000 residents in the district.
The crackdown is not just affecting sports facilities. The city made international headlines last month when the owner of a popular indie club was arrested along with the foreign musicians performing inside a Kwun Tong industrial building. With crowds of people gathered in a small venue, safety is a valid issue. But it also underlines the lack of affordable space for performances. It would be good if these premises can be given more flexibility to operate.