The mainland's decision to relax ownership restrictions on utilities services such as water, gas and heating in cities with populations of up to 500,000 has been welcomed by Hong Kong firms, enabling them to set up wholly-owned operations from next year. Ming Hing Waterworks Holdings, which maintains 60 per cent of Hong Kong's water supply system, said this would fit its desire to take a controlling interest in water supply projects in medium-sized cities. The firm is looking for its first project on the mainland, preferably in the south. China Gas Holdings, which supplies piped gas in about 56 mainland cities, hoped the ownership restriction would be relaxed eventually in bigger cities, according to chief financial officer Eric Leung. A spokesman for Towngas, which has more than 30 joint ventures on the mainland, said the deal would encourage investment.