A new market offering 200 stalls at low rents will provide business opportunities and cheaper basic goods for poor residents of Tin Shui Wai, one of the city's most troubled districts, the government says.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday unveiled a pilot scheme for a market on 38,000 sq ft of government land in the new town in the northeast New Territories, known as the "city of sadness" for its high level of poverty and a spate of suicides.
Lam said government departments had pledged HK$10 million to finance the necessary infrastructure, and that the first of the stalls, available for just HK$800-$1,000 per month for the sale of groceries and other necessities, could be available as soon as the Lunar New Year holiday in February.
"We know that local residents might not have many choices in shopping, while the prices for daily necessities are even more expensive than in the urban districts," Lam said.
She said the scheme had been introduced to address the concerns of residents, in line with promises by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Residents have long considered Tin Shui Wai badly planned, and Leung faced calls during the election to tackle expensive commodity prices in the town.
The Link Reit, which manages malls and other facilities on public housing estates, has been accused of squeezing out small businesses by pushing up rents. The Link operates all but one of the nine malls in Tin Shui Wai.
Lam said the market would be run by the non-profit Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the government would provide HK$2 million to help run the operation.
Viola Chan Man Yee-wai, chairwoman of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, said: "We target rents of between HK$800 and $1,000 a month, but we would consider waiving the first two months of rent to tenants who encounter financial difficulties."
A spokeswoman for the group said low-income residents would be given priority in renting the stalls, along with non-governmental organisations and other social enterprises.
District councillors welcomed the government's initiative - which is in line with Leung's election manifesto - to create more jobs and business opportunities in the remote new town where residents often face long and expensive journeys to work.
Ken Chow Wing-kan, a Yuen Long district councillor, said the rent levels were acceptable and the new market stalls would not affect the businesses of shopping malls in the area - most of which focus on luxury commodities.
Another district councillor, Lee Yuet-man, said the district's popular dawn market - where hawkers sell cheaper food and clothing every day from 7-10am - could be a nuisance to those living nearby.
The new market stalls could provide an alternative venue for the hawkers to run their businesses, Lee said.