Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Gabriel Leung, in the Legislative Council today (January 12):
In the early morning of December 6, 2010, an arson attack occurred at Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok, causing a Number 3 alarm fire, in which 50 hawker stalls were burnt down and some neighboring shops and residents living upstairs were affected. The fire has caused serious damages to neighbouring buildings and ground floor shops. Owners of open-air stalls have lost all their properties and goods, and their businesses have been seriously affected. The affected stall owners, flat owners, tenants, residents and owners' corporations (OCs), etc. have to face heavy financial burden after the fire as they need to repair their residential units and shops urgently. Some fire victims have indicated that as most residents and stall owners in the district are elderly persons, the grassroots or traders running small businesses, they have considerable difficulties in paying for the huge expenses in repairing and re-establishing their businesses within a short time. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) what financial support or assistance have been provided by the authorities to the affected stall owners and tenants of ground floor shops since the outbreak of fire at Fa Yuen Street; and given that traders have no money to purchase goods for sale again and owners have no money to repair their homes, whether the authorities will provide subsidies or interest-free loans to them;
(b) whether the authorities will request the Urban Renewal Authority or the Hong Kong Housing Society to, under the Operation Building Bright and the Building Management and Maintenance Scheme, etc., provide express vetting service as a matter of urgency to buildings (with or without OCs) suffering serious damages in this fire, so that OCs and flat owners of these buildings will receive subsidies to repair all damaged public areas and private residential areas of the buildings as soon as possible;
(c) whether the authorities will consider asking the Community Care Fund Steering Committee, which is chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration, to examine allocating funds raised from the business sector to provide emergency assistance to the fire victims, in case the current assistance schemes cannot offer help to these victims; and
(d) given that there are comments that this fire has highlighted the problems of fire safety, management and security arising from the concentration of a large number of open-air hawker stalls on the same street, whether the authorities will learn from this lesson and take effective measures to enhance the fire safety of streets with a large number of open-air hawker stalls in various districts in Hong Kong, so as to prevent recurrence of fire?
A No. 3 alarm fire broke out at some hawker stalls in the Fa Yuen Street Hawker Permitted Area near Nullah Road at around 5 o'clock in the morning of December 6, 2010. A total of 66 hawker stalls and more than 30 street shops were affected, among which 49 hawker stalls were seriously damaged by fire. The residents of several buildings in the vicinity needed to be evacuated. The Government cared about the condition of the victims. It took immediate action after the fire with the relevant organisations (including a charitable organisation and the electricity company) and communicated with the hawker associations concerned and the stall traders and shop operators affected, with a view to making concerted efforts to facilitate reconstruction and provide various assistance. Our reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:
(a) Our first priority has been to assist the stall traders and shop operators affected to resume business as soon as possible, and to help the residents affected to resume their normal living. The assistance provided includes the following:
(i) Emergency Aid: The Yau Tsim Mong District Office (YTMDO) set up an inter-departmental help desk at the scene immediately after the fire to assist those victims in urgent need of cash, including stall traders, shop operators and residents, to apply for assistance under the General Chinese Charities Fund administered by the Home Affairs Department. The YTMDO arranged for disbursement of grants on the same day. In parallel, the Social Welfare Department also liaised with the Lok Sin Tong Benevolent Society, Kowloon, which also provided emergency relief grants to victims in need. Besides, the YTMDO opened the Henry G Leong Yau Ma Tei Community Centre on the same day to provide temporary shelter for the residents in need;
(ii) Clearance of the fire site: The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) immediately arranged additional manpower and vehicles to assist stall owners and shop operators to clean up their stalls and goods damaged by the fire. The Highways Department also re-surfaced the street promptly to enable stall traders to undertake reconstruction work as soon as possible;
(iii) Electricity supply and electrical installations: The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) contacted the China Light & Power Company Limited (CLP), the Hong Kong and Kowloon Electrical Engineering and Appliances Trade Workers Union and the Hong Kong Electrical Contractors' Association. With their assistance, electricity supply was resumed and electrical installations were reinstalled for the stall traders; and
(iv) Cash flow: If the affected shop operators encounter cash flow problems, they may consider joining the SME Loan Guarantee Scheme administered by the Trade and Industry Department to apply for loans from the participating lending institutions for acquiring business installations and equipment or meeting working capital needs.
The stall traders and shop operators have largely resumed all their business by now and those residents seeking temporary shelter have also returned to their homes by the end of last year.
(b) The Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) has been providing assistance to the building owners. After the incident, the HKHS and the YTMDO have liaised with the affected owners incorporations and visited the affected owners and residents. Also, the HKHS has attended the briefing session organised by the YTMDO to introduce and explain the HKHS's "Building Management and Maintenance Scheme" (the scheme includes the "Building Maintenance Incentive Scheme" and the "Home Renovation Loan Scheme") and the "Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners". According to information, out of the nine buildings affected, six satisfy the requirements for application under the "Building Maintenance Incentive Scheme" and/or the "Home Renovation Loan Scheme". Of these, four have already applied for or been included in the "Operation Building Bright". One of these buildings has received the "approval-in-principal" letter while the applications of the remaining three buildings are being processed by the relevant departments. The HKHS will try to meet the residents' requests as far as possible and will expedite the processing of the residents' applications for subsidies and loans. In addition, the owners can also consider applying for the Buildings Department's "Building Safety Loan Scheme" for financial support.
(c) The Steering Committee on the Community Care Fund will take into account the views and demands from various quarters when mapping out the target beneficiaries and assistance programmes, having regard to the existing assistance and services already provided by the Government or other charitable funds.
(d) In respect of the fire safety and management problems arising from the concentration of stall structures (commonly known as "Pai Dong") in the Fa Yuen Street Hawker Permitted Area, the FEHD contacted the Fire Services Department (FSD) and the EMSD immediately after the fire to discuss practicable ways of enhancement. The enhancement proposals include: ensuring sufficient space in the carriageway for fire appliances and firemen; reserving sufficient space between hawker stalls to facilitate evacuation of residents of buildings in the vicinity; reserving proper separation space between hawker stalls which are not joined together so as to prevent the spread of fire; ensuring that the stalls are erected with fire-resisting materials; and requiring that the electricity supply for lighting should be obtained from legal and independent sources, etc.
Concerning the above proposals, the FEHD, together with the FSD and the EMSD, has discussed the implementation details with the Federation of Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Hawker Associations, the Fa Yuen Street Hawker Association and all licensed hawkers in the Fa Yuen Street Hawker Permitted Area. When formulating the details, the FEHD's principle is to strive to meet the operational needs of the traders as far as possible without compromising the fire safety principle.
After a consensus has been reached with the trade associations and stall traders concerned, the enhancement proposals have started to be implemented in phases. The FEHD also calls for self-discipline on the part of the stall traders. Strict enforcement actions will surely be taken against traders who are found to have violated the proposed enhancement arrangements, in order to prevent the unauthorised obstruction of access.
As for other hawker permitted areas with a large number of open-air hawker stalls in the street, the FEHD will continue to communicate with the FSD and liaise with the stall traders. Having regard to the specific circumstances of different locations, appropriate stall specifications and the relevant requirements would be worked out, with a view to enhancing fire safety through the licensing mechanism and the enforcement action.
Ends/Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:06