Four underused wet markets on prime sites in the city will be closed down in the next few years for land sale or other public use as part of a consolidation of municipal services.
A senior government source said the markets could offer fresh stock to ease the tight supply of small and medium-sized commercial sites in urban areas. Surveyors also said the treasury could raise billions of dollars in land revenue if the market places were sold to developers.
Under the plan, Mongkok Market, Electric Road Market in Fortress Hill and Tang Lung Chau Market in Causeway Bay would be closed down, and Bridges Street Market in Central demolished under the Urban Renewal Authority's redevelopment plan for the area.
All four markets, except the one on Electric Road, have an occupancy rate of less than 40 per cent.
As a first step, the government presented a proposal to Yau Tsim Mong District Council last week on Mongkok Market's closure.
The government source said there was a surplus of wet markets in the city. The 78 wet markets managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department are 77 per cent full, on average. These markets exclude dozens of others on estates that fall under the Housing Authority and the Housing Society.
'There are just too many wet markets in urban areas,' the source said. 'We can turn them into parks, libraries, community centres or even for residential and commercial use. It is just no good to keep these buildings empty or half-empty.'
The official also said the amount of rent collected from these markets was 'appalling'. For example, Mongkok Market paid only $800,000 a year.
The source also said the number of markets could be further reduced as the bazaars should be limited to 'wet goods' stalls only.
'We do not see why there should still be stalls selling clothes or other groceries in a wet market,' the source said.
Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, a director at property developer Savills, estimated that the four markets could be worth between $1.9 billion to $2.3 billion if turned into residential or commercial use.
'These sites will have high demand,' he said. 'There are simply not enough small commercial sites in these prime areas. There are also not many small residential sites for smaller developers.'
Wan Chai District Council chairwoman Ada Wong Ying-kay agreed that the surplus markets should be closed down.
'The government should turn these sites over for public use rather than putting them up for auction,' she said. 'They are designated as places for the public anyway.'