Mong Kok residents, investors give thumbs down to plan for legal food bazaar
Government proposal ‘unanimously opposed’ by those living nearby; those in food business unhappy with large investment required and rule against cooking with fire
Mong Kok residents were “unanimously opposed” to the government’s proposal of setting up a food bazaar for hawkers during the upcoming Lunar New Year, Yau Tsim Mong district council chairman Chris Ip Ngo-tung said, adding that investors were also not keen.
Ip said on Monday that the district council had consulted the owners’ corporations as well as the residents of 10 buildings near Macpherson Playground – the proposed location of the bazaar – and they were all opposed to the plan.
“There can be difficulty when it comes to actually making the plan work. We consulted the residents living nearby, and they were unanimously opposed to it because they feared it would affect them. It’s understandable because it will last till 2am,” Ip said on a Commercial Radio programme.
“My friends in the food business also say they are not drawn to the plan because the investment will be huge, and they are not allowed to cook with fire,” he added.
According to the proposal, only electricity would be allowed for cooking.
For many years, hawkers have lined the streets of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po during the Lunar New Year. The government allowed them to do so until this year. In February, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s crackdown on illegal street food sellers triggered a night of violence which came to be known as the Mong Kok riot.
The proposal marks the government’s first attempt to legalise street food businesses during the festivities, after many years of tolerating them. The FEHD plan involved setting up a food bazaar from January 28 to 30 to accommodate 40 hawkers.
Food and health minister Dr Ko Wing-man has denied that the proposal has anything to do with the Mong Kok riot. Ip from the district council also said he was not worried there could be another riot in the coming festive period, saying that if anyone wanted to stir up trouble, they could do so any time of the year.
Localist lawmaker Lau Siu-lai, who was fined HK$1,800 earlier this year for selling fried squid in Sham Shui Po on the eve of the Lunar New Year, said the government needed to explain to residents what the food bazaar was about.
“The residents may just find it difficult to imagine what [the bazaar] would be like,” she said. She added that hawkers have lined the streets during the period for many years, and they would still be there even if the government scrapped the bazaar proposal.
Lee Tai-shing, spokesman of a group supporting hawkers in Sham Shui Po, feared that the government would use the proposal as an excuse to crack down on illegal street hawkers across the city.
“I am very worried ... there will be no more hawkers across Hong Kong. If the government really is planning to do it this way, the officials better set up the bazaar in many more locations. If the government is setting up the bazaar in only one location, I’d tend not to support it,” Lee said.