The government is to seek legal advice on whether the Times Square shopping mall is flouting the law by letting out its ground floor piazza - supposed to be public open space - to exhibitors, charging as much as HK$124,000 a day. The move comes amid mounting criticism of developers that gain valuable concessions by providing open space and then restrict public access to that space. Times Square, the million-square-foot prime shopping centre in Causeway Bay owned by Wharf (Holdings), is under fire for reaping extra profits by leasing part of the piazza for commercial exhibits and coffee shops. A Times Square spokesman has claimed the piazza is under private ownership and was built out of courtesy by the company to improve pedestrian flow. But Buildings Department director Cheung Hau-wai said yesterday that under a deed of dedication agreed between the government and the management in 1992, the entire ground-floor piazza - including the covered area - should be for public passage, passive recreation and public exhibitions. 'The public has the right to use the piazza, even to practise tai chi there,' he said on a radio programme. Under the agreement, Times Square could charge exhibitors just management fees and for water and electricity, he said. But Times Square general manager Leng Yen Thean insisted the company had not violated any regulations and said activities organised by the government in the piazza were not charged any rent. 'The Starbucks had only operated for a year. It stopped after receiving a warning from the government,' she said. The piazza is just one of numerous spaces such as podium gardens and open squares where the public should have access but the right is never exercised because no one knows about it. Director of Lands Annie Tam Kam-lan said yesterday that about 150 such sites would be publicised later this month. Institute of Planners vice-president Kim Chan Kim-on said the government should investigate and state clearly whether private companies should be allowed to reap profits from renting out public open space. 'The provision of the public open space is usually achieved by some concessions given to the developers, such as land premium exemption or the granting of bonus plot ratio,' he said. 'If the owners alone receive rental payments for the public space, the public as a whole has suffered.' A Buildings Department spokeswoman said the government had liaised with Times Square with the aim of seeing more exhibitions of an educational nature or for charity purposes in the piazza in future. A spokeswoman for the Lands Department said it was impractical to conduct regular checks on use of open space in private developments.