LCQ16: Provision of spaces to facilitate shop operators to do businesses

     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):


     Currently, law enforcement officers may institute prosecutions, by way of summons under section 4A of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228), against those persons who cause obstruction of public places (street obstruction).  When the relevant amendments to the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 (Ordinance No. 4 of 2016) come into operation on September 24, this year, law enforcement officers may also issue fixed penalty notices to the aforesaid offenders.  Some members of the public are concerned that if the authorities take law enforcement actions vigorously, quite a number of shop operators may have difficulties in doing businesses and even close down their businesses, which may result in the districts concerned losing their distinctiveness.  Hence, they consider that the Government should improve the planning of such districts, and strike a balance between addressing the problem of street obstruction caused by shop operators and maintaining spaces for operators of small shops to do businesses.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it will consider consulting various stakeholders, as soon as possible and before the commencement of the aforesaid legislative amendments, on the following proposals: on specified days (e.g. Valentine's Day and Lunar Year End) and on the premise of not causing danger to road users, to grant discretionary permission for operators of flower retail shops at the flower market in Mong Kok (Flower Market) to use their shop-front areas for placing flowers, and to prohibit access of vehicles to that area for temporary designation of that area as pedestrian precinct and flower distribution area, so as to maintain and enhance the distinctiveness of that area; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as the Government indicated in March this year that the law enforcement departments concerned had embarked on formulating law enforcement guidelines in respect of the implementation of the aforesaid legislative amendments with a view to avoiding unnecessary confrontations between law enforcement officers and shop operators, and that it would carry out publicity work on such amendments before they came into operation, of the relevant details and work progress;

(3) as flowers grown locally accounted for about 27 per cent of the fresh flowers consumed in the territory in 2015, whether the Government will consider setting up a wholesale market for local flowers near the Flower Market or in other locations, so as to provide sufficient spaces for conducting flowers wholesaling activities and creating new and unique tourist attractions; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) whether the authorities will consider allocating idle spaces (e.g. those underneath flyovers or at street corners) with good pedestrian flows to operators of small and unique businesses (such as cobblers, watch repairers, knife sharpening service providers and locksmiths) who cannot afford high rents to enable them to set up shops; if the authorities will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(5) as the shop operators from the Flower Market and other similar areas have relayed to me that business spaces of their shops had shrunk as a result of street widening works carried out by the authorities in such areas years ago, and they are forced to place flowers and goods in their shop fronts, thus causing street obstruction, whether the authorities will conduct replanning for such areas in order to strike a balance between the needs of shop operators and road users?



     With a view to enhancing measures to tackle shop front extensions (SFEs), the Government conducted a four-month public consultation exercise in 2014 to solicit public views.  Among the total of about 1 100 submissions received, most of the respondents supported that a fixed penalty system should be introduced as an additional enforcement tool against SFEs.  Subsequently, the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 (the Ordinance) was gazetted on March 24, 2016.  To allow time for the industry and other stakeholders to make necessary preparations, the Government has stated in the Ordinance that the fixed penalty system will come into operation on the expiry of six months beginning on the day on which it is published in the Gazette, i.e. from September 24, 2016.  My answers to the respective parts of the question are as follows:

(1) and (3) In general, cases where business activities are conducted beyond the confines of shops that constitute a distinct characteristic and contribute to the vibrancy of the district without causing any danger to pedestrians and other road users may be designated as a "tolerated area", subject to the due consideration of relevant government departments, District Councils (DCs) and/or District Management Committees, and on the condition that the shop operators can exercise self-discipline by adhering to a level of extension agreed.  

     As regards the case of Mong Kok Flower Market (Flower Market), being a major flower wholesale and retail distribution centre, a sightseeing location and a prime leisure spot in Hong Kong, it has already become one of the current "tolerated areas".  Over the years, the Government has continued to liaise with the shop owners of the Flower Market and their trade associations, with a view to facilitating business while minimising nuisance caused to nearby residents.  In this regard, the Government is grateful for the cooperation of the shop operators, and look forward to their continued self-discipline according to the tolerated area arrangements, so as to maintain the uniqueness of the Flower Market and a better road access.

     In addition, the Government has also been promoting street markets to tourists, including the Flower Market, through the Hong Kong Tourism Board's (HKTB) website, mobile applications, visitors' guidebooks, visitor information centres and hotline.  If in future there is any flower wholesale market which can be developed into a tourist hotspot, the HKTB will work with trade partners and related organisations to include those markets in its promotion.

(2) To prepare for the implementation of the fixed penalty system, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has prepared enforcement guidelines and commenced training for frontline staff to assist them in determining on the spot the most appropriate legal tools (including Fixed Penalty Notice) to be used, taking into consideration the actual ground situation.  FEHD will collaborate with the Home Affairs Department (HAD) in launching public education and publicity at the district level like distributing leaflets, etc.

     The Police is currently working on preparing the enforcement guideline as well.  Briefing sessions will be conducted to the frontline officers to ensure their understanding of the new fixed penalty system when providing the necessary support to other departments in pre-planned inter-departmental operations.

     To allow time for the industry and other stakeholders to make necessary preparations, and to publicise the new fixed penalty system, the Government is carrying out relevant publicity and public education work during the period between the gazettal of the Ordinance and the commencement of the fixed penalty system.  In particular, the HAD has launched a new round of publicity campaign with the use of Announcements in the Public Interest and posters.  District Offices will, in collaboration with DCs, carry out publicity at the district level, including distributing leaflets, pamphlets and advisory letters etc.

(4) FEHD is following up on the issue of licences to surveyed unlicensed street tradesmen with characteristics reminiscent of our local culture and heritage.  Examples include cobblers, watch repairers, locksmiths, knife sharpeners, Chinese facial cosmeticians, letter writers, etc.  After obtaining DCs' support and clearance of other government departments, licensing in-situ or at another suitable site as fixed pitches will be considered, and the surveyed tradesmen may apply for Fixed Pitch (Tradesman) Hawker licences, so that if issued with the licence, they can continue to conduct business at suitable sites legally.  FEHD will submit cases to relevant DCs for their views shortly.

(5) The Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG) stipulates general guidelines for determining the scale, location and site requirements of various land uses, community facilities and infrastructures according to the population and other factors.  The compilation of HKPSG is coordinated by the Planning Department, where relevant bureaux and departments will formulate and review planning standards under their purview in a timely manner, in accordance with their policies on relevant services and the development needs.

Ends/Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:48