Stallholders, politicians join to fight death of an icon A fresh battle is looming over the changing face of Wan Chai as the government takes steps to close the oldest and largest market on Hong Kong Island. All 158 stallholders in the Wan Chai street market were told by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department last week that their licences would be renewed month by month from May 14 until a new indoor, partly underground, market is ready early next year. The outdoor market, in Tai Yuen Street and Cross Street, would then be cleared to clean up the area and improve traffic. Stallholders and district councillors are preparing a campaign against the closure. A closed-door meeting will be held today between stall representatives and officials. The vibrant market, including 30 food stalls, has a history stretching back more than 70 years. Originally located in Wan Chai Road, it moved to its present site in the early 1970s. The market, famous for toys and small gifts, is also nicknamed Toy Street and has long been a favourite shopping spot with tourists. Stallholders do not pay rent now, only an annual $4,500 licence fee. But they will have to pay about $3,000 a month as rent in the new complex. Many elderly stallholders said they could not afford this and would have to close. The move to close the Wan Chai street market is part of a policy devised by the now-defunct Urban Council in the 1990s to move all the city's outdoor markets indoors to improve the environment. Ada Wong Ying-kay, chairman of Wan Chai District Council, said the street market should be preserved. 'It is part of our heritage and the city's character,' she said. 'Nobody will go and enjoy shopping in an ordinary indoor market complex. And the worse thing is that many of these stalls will go underground in the new market. The policy to remove all these outdoor markets is simply stupid and should be reversed.' The new complex will be beneath a Chinese Estates Holdings residential development. A deputy director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Donald Tong Chi-keung, said the relocation was aimed at improving the area's environmental hygiene. 'We will listen to the owners' concerns and hopefully a solution can be found to resolve the problem.' But he stressed no compensation would be paid to stall owners. A government source said officials were frustrated by the campaign by district politicians. 'The plan to clear the street market was supported by the last district council a few years ago, but the councillors have now changed their minds,' the source said. 'We are criticised for doing nothing whenever there is a food safety and environment hygiene problem, but attacked when we do something to clear an outdoor market because we destroy our heritage. So what can we do?' The source also warned the new market complex would be empty if the street stalls did not move in. 'Or at least there will be two markets selling similar stuff.' There was a fierce controversy two years ago when the nearby Lee Tung Street - widely known as Wedding Card Street because of its many printing shops - was resumed by the Urban Renewal Authority. The buildings will be knocked down later this year. A campaign was also launched last year by architects and heritage activists to save Wan Chai Market, a 70-year-old Bauhaus-style building, from demolition. About 70 stalls in the wet market building will also move to the new complex.