Some of Hong Kong’s famous dried seafood vendors face uncertain future under HK$1.3 billion redevelopment plan

Demolition of dilapidated buildings in Sai Ying Pun to open up more public space will affect decades-old businesses

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 11:10pm

A cluster of dilapidated buildings in Sai Ying Pun is set to be torn down, opening up more public space for the community as part of the Urban Renewal Authority’s latest redevelopment project.

But the HK$1.3 billion plan will displace a number of dried seafood sellers who have done business in the neighbourhood for decades.

On the northwestern tip of Hong Kong Island, the 12,000 sq ft site is home to a group of low-rise buildings built between 1959 and 1978 near Des Voeux Road West – also known as “dried seafood street”.

Next to the site, a small public playground with a single swing, a slide and a few benches is surrounded by residential blocks and accessible only via small lanes.

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The URA’s head of planning and design Wilfred Au Chun-ho said: “We have two purposes for this project: first, to improve living conditions; and second ... to enhance connectivity by widening the access to the playground.”

The project will affect 110 households and 13 ground-floor shops, most of which house dried seafood retailers.

By 2027, the new site will provide 165 new flats and about 4,000 sq ft of commercial and retail floor area, along with an additional 1,500 sq ft of open space.

The URA plans for the commercial buildings facing the playground to be only about one to two floors high, while lanes connected to the playground will be widened for improved access.

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Sai Ying Pun, first settled by the British military, has been a low-key residential area made up of traditional shops and small back lanes. But, with the extension of the MTR line, the area has become increasingly gentrified, with bars and art galleries setting up shop.

Sin Kwok-kai, 72, who has lived in a fifth-floor flat in the area for 49 years, said he had been “waiting for [redevelopment for] a long time”.

“I don’t know when my ceiling’s going to fall on me. I feel like it’s going to collapse any time. One time, a slab of concrete the size of my pillow fell from the ceiling. Luckily no one was hurt,” Sin said.

Water also seeps through the walls when typhoons hit, he said.

Sin, who suffers from a heart condition, said he hopes to move to a building with a lift after taking up the URA’s offer of a flat swap or cash compensation.

“I’m not that young any more,” he said. “I need to stop by the time I get to the second or third floor every time I climb these stairs.”

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Kwong Man-yee, 53, who runs a well-known dried seafood store that has served the likes of Canto-pop star Andy Lau Tak-wah and other celebrities, said she would be sad if she had to move.

“I don’t think this area needs to be redeveloped. My shop is doing just fine, but that’s just me,” Kwong said.

“Of course I want to stay if I can. My dad started his business on this street more than 60 years ago, and we want to hand it down to our next generation,” she said.

Kevin Poon, who runs a 400 sq ft store selling canned abalone, said he was worried that he would lose his customers.

“Traditional businesses like ours rely on the people and the community. If we move, I’ll have to set it up and build the connections all over again,” Poon said.

“I’m not totally against the redevelopment. Society needs to move forward after all. But businesses like us will just have to suffer.”