The government has been urged to be more flexible to attract tenants to wet markets after its auction of long-vacant stalls drew a cool response.
The call came from legislator Fred Li Wah-ming, who said he had told the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department before the auction that it should be more creative in its lease conditions.
Mr Li was speaking after the department leased only 306 stalls of 1,557 it had offered at reserve prices 60 to 80 per cent below the going rate.
'It is a very poor response, of course,' said Mr Li, chairman of the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel.
'There are so many restrictions that potential tenants' desire to rent these stalls is eliminated,' he said.
Tenants were scared off by a three-year lease requirement, which was too long, he said, and the requirement to sell a certain type of goods.
'The department should be more creative and offer more flexibility in the goods that a tenant can sell,' Mr Li said.
The general secretary of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Merchants and Hawkers Association, Tsang Kam-ming, agreed with the lawmaker.
'The rents are quite attractive. We understood that many hawkers wanted to move in but were stopped by the restriction on the type of goods they could sell,' he said.
'Such goods are often already sold by a number of stalls at the same market - what a discouragement.'
Despite the economic downturn, many hawkers and jobless people wanted to try their luck by extending their businesses or starting new ones.
'We hope the government can give us a chance,' Mr Tsang said.
Mr Li urged the department to learn from The Link Management, which operates shops and car parks in housing estates that were formerly owned by the government.
'The vacancy rate of The Link Management is quite low and it is very innovative in its leases.
'It is time for the government to go out listening to the views of the public and be adventurous. They have to change their mindsets and stop discussing matters behind closed doors,' Mr Li said.
The department said auctions of long-vacant stalls would be held every month from now on.
'Results of open auctions for vacant market stalls are indications of market response,' a spokesman for the department said when asked to comment on the auction results.
He added that the department had no plan to alter its lease requirements or adjust discounted rentals.
The auction was organised after a report by the Audit Commission last year found that the government had lost HK$160 million on 104 public markets under its management.
It said about a quarter of stalls in public markets were vacant, with 50 per cent in 11 markets.
It added that the loss was due not only to the high vacancy rate but to cheap rentals, with deficits recorded in some busy markets.