Hong Kong's 4,000 hawkers are to be offered money from a HK$200 million subsidy scheme aimed at improving the environment and fire safety of their stalls.
The scheme was announced by the health minister yesterday at a time when fire hazards in hawker areas are under scrutiny after the Fa Yuen Street fire that killed nine people in Mong Kok last November.
Funds will be available for hawkers to renovate, move or return their licences to the government.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the scheme would be put up for six to eight months' consultation and funds would be sought from the Legislative Council.
But he did not specify how much would be available to each hawker.
"The major purpose of this project is to improve the environment of the district and the business situation for the hawkers and to enhance safety, such as through fire prevention facilities," Ko said after visiting a fixed-pitch hawker area in Bowring Street, Jordan. "Hawker stalls are a part of our society and they play a role in our economic structure but they must be maintained."
The government would provide guidelines on building materials for renovating the stalls.
Stall owners who were elderly or wanted to close their business would be helped to return their licences.
Some hawkers in Bowring Street welcomed the initiative, saying the money would help improve their business environment.
Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Chan Wai-keung said it was "better than nothing".
Chan said the government should take the opportunity to standardise building materials for the stalls so they could resist fire for at least an hour.
He said hawker stalls in Temple Street and Canton Road were still causing safety concerns even after the Fa Yuen Street tragedy.
He predicted stall owners would resist if the government tried to move them on.