A FIGHT for survival by Hong Kong's thousands of roving hawkers, battling a new bylaw which banishes them from the streets, yesterday lay in the hands of Mister Softee. The mobile ice-cream seller has whipped up a protest over the legislation, which threatens to put it out of business. Mister Softee, owned by Ng Enterprises Limited, yesterday launched a bid to persuade a High Court judge the bylaw was unfair and unlawful. The company, which has an ice-cream factory in Sha Tin and retails exclusively through its vans, has been classified as an 'itinerant hawker' by the Urban Council. The bylaw, drawn up last September, will ban such hawkers from urban areas. If, as planned, it comes into effect next year, the ice-cream company will have to close, the court heard. Philip Dykes, for Mister Softee, said the drivers of the company's eight ice-cream vans all held itinerant hawkers' licences. The bylaw would abolish these licences and make it illegal to operate as mobile hawkers in urban areas. The council claims such hawkers block traffic, create a public nuisance and cause hygiene and environmental problems. Mister Softee's legal action, in the form of a judicial review, will save all 2,000 urban itinerant hawkers if Mr Justice Keith rules the bylaw should be quashed. But the company does not quibble with the council's policy, only the way it is being implemented. Mr Dykes said a company which employed 37 people, had capital investment of $18 million, and paid $550,000 a year in taxes, was not the same as a hawker who sold food out of a barrow. He also argued the Urban Council had no power to ban itinerant hawkers, only to regulate and control them. Mr Dykes submitted that banning Mister Softee's business was unreasonable and the procedures leading to the drawing up of the new bylaw had been unfair. Until 1982, the court heard, the company operated the ice-cream vans in its own name. The Urban Council then decided the vans could only be licensed in the names of individuals. The council has now offered hawkers who surrender their licences $30,000 compensation and the option of staying in one place. Van licence-holders can move to leisure areas and cooked food centres. Outside, hawkers demanded the ban be lifted. The hearing, which is expected to last at least two days, continues today.