Food and drink kiosk operators on many Hong Kong beaches will have to get used to strict closing times and permanent furniture installed by the government in public areas, as the Leisure and Cultural Services Department responds to complaints.
The department says it has received a growing numbers of complaints from local residents about late-night noise from kiosks, and about kiosk operators breaching their contracts by preventing beachgoers from using chairs and tables they have put out in public areas.
To mark public spaces clearly, the department has installed standardised, immovable tables and chairs, along with umbrellas bearing the departmental logo, outside beachside kiosks at Big Wave Bay, Shek O and Deep Water Bay over the past two years. More are planned at South Bay, Middle Bay and St Stephen's Beach in Stanley.
Beach kiosks, some of which serve food into the evening, will have to close at 7pm between June and August - in keeping with beach operating hours - and 6pm for the rest of the year, though extensions may be made in some cases to 11pm, a department spokeswoman said.
But some kiosk operators say it is unreasonable to make them shut their businesses so early in the day. Kenneth Howe, who is applying for new contracts for his beachside kiosks in South Bay, Middle Bay and St Stephen's Beach, said: 'In the summertime, sunset is at 7.30pm, but now the government wants us to close at the most popular time for our customers.'
Howe said the use of public space should be left up to beachgoers. 'The beach is a natural asset that should be enjoyed by all, we should all have a say on what we want and the government is being inflexible.'
The police received 12 noise complaints this year from residents of South Bay and Middle Bay. The department said the situation had 'deteriorated' because there were only four complaints there last year.
Howe said he has stopped holding parties at Middle Bay Beach, which has more homes nearby than at the more secluded South Bay Beach. He has also turned down the music volume significantly.
The department is introducing its own tables, largely because operators were barring people who were not customers at their restaurants from using the tables and chairs on public land. Under the previous contracts with the kiosk owners, the department allowed the operators to put out their own tables and chairs on public land - as long as the furniture was clearly meant for public use and not just for customers.
The department said it had retracted this privilege because it found some operators had been barring non-customers from using tables.
But that restriction forced kiosk operator Jean-Paul Gauci to shut down his upscale Cococabana restaurant in Deep Water Bay. He has since downsized the operation to offer self-service food, and has been given a permit to open until 11pm.
One supporter of the department's actions is Fergus Fung Se-goun, a Southern district councillor and restaurant guide publisher. 'If residents are complaining of noise from the late-night parties, then the operators have to be more considerate,' he said.
'But I understand the need for the department's furniture because the government cannot monitor the operators day and night.
'The department could compromise on nicer looking furniture.'
And Chung Chun-wa, who sells food from a beach kiosk in Big Wave Bay, says the government tables - although unattractive - are a reasonable way of showing beachgoers of all economic backgrounds that they can have access free of charge.
'Some beach kiosks barricade their restaurants with furnishings and it is not obvious at all that beachgoers can sit without having to dine. When it gets sunny, we are one of the few places with shade, so it is important that the public has access.'