Disputed relocation of Hong Kong fabric hawkers sees breakthrough as minister offers to include stalls in new fashion hub

But small business owners still cautious on terms as fears of higher rent persist

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 9:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 10:32am

A long-running dispute over the relocation of a fabric hawkers’ market in Hong Kong saw a breakthrough on Tuesday when the commerce minister offered to incorporate it in plans for a new fashion hub in the district.

The idea was unveiled at a Sham Shui Po district council meeting by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah as he shared plans for a five-storey fashion and design centre.

About two dozen members of the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar facing government eviction came to greet the district councillors and minister with their demands for a permanent solution.

Tsang Chiu-man, a representative for the hawkers, questioned why officials did not provide space for the stall owners in the new hub. He accused officials of removing them in favour of private projects.

Yau said the project did not only involve the single building housing the hub, but also several surrounding blocks that the government planned to develop into a “fashion centre”.

The minister added that, with the hub forming the core of the fashion centre, the bazaar would be “synergistically” incorporated into plans for the area. He said the government wanted the stall owners to relocate right next to it, thus benefiting hawkers and helping the neighbourhood economy.

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The bazaar was established in 1978 and once housed more than 190 textile stalls. But officials and some hawkers have in recent years been embroiled in a dispute over relocation terms.

The government has offered compensation and priority bidding for new stalls at the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market – located next to the new fashion hub – with a 20 per cent discount off their rent.

Local fashion designers and students feared relocating the traditional market could spell an end to affordable textile traders and sources.

Sham Shui Po district councillor Janet Ng Yuet-lan welcomed the government’s plan, but expressed caution.

“It’s a good idea, but it depends on how the government adds [the hawkers] into the plan. We will have to see,” she said.

During the meeting, other district councillors voiced their concern that rents would rise in the area after the hub was established, making retail space in Sham Shui Po unaffordable for the fabric stall owners.

The 3,600 square metre hub is to be located at the junction of Tung Chau and Kweilin streets, an area surrounded by fabric and clothing shops.

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According to the government, the building will include fashion studios, production workshops, co-working spaces, seminar spaces, an incubation centre, a design library and material library.

Yau added that the fashion centre would attract visitors, making the district a tourist destination.

Plans to redevelop the area into a fashion centre were first announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor during her maiden policy address last October. Lam said the government would “actively look into ways for young designers to make full use of the traditional base for apparel and fabrics in Sham Shui Po District to create new synergy” with a focus on local and young designers.

The project is expected to be completed in 2023.