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Public consultation on management of fixed-pitch hawker areas

     The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, today (February 14) stressed that fixed pitch hawking is part of the local culture, providing job opportunities and a cheaper source of goods for the general public. The Government has no intention of banning such hawking activities.

     The Government issued a public consultation document on the management of fixed-pitch hawker areas on February 8, proposing medium and long-term measures aimed at improving the management of hawker stalls. The consultation exercise will last for three months. Dr Chow briefed the Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene of the Legislative Council on the consultation document today.

     Speaking at the meeting, Dr Chow pointed out that quite a number of fires have broken out at hawker stalls in recent years. For example, at Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok, two major fires broke out in the past two years, with the fire in November last year causing nine deaths and many injured. The Government has stepped up enforcement and put forward a proposed mechanism for cancellation of hawker licences for consultation, with a view to minimising the fire risks posed by the hawker stalls in Fa Yuen Street in the short term.

     "However, there are many on-street hawker stalls which are located in densely populated areas of the territory and close to residential buildings. Hence, it is necessary for us to draw on the experience of the fires at hawker stalls and examine the need to introduce medium and long-term measures to improve stall management in order to reduce fire risks," he said.

     According to the assessment of the Fire Services Department (FSD), existing hawker areas pose a number of potential fire risks in relation to the location of hawker stalls, materials used in the structures of hawker stalls, the size of hawker stall canopies, the storage of large quantities of combustible goods and overnight storage of goods. To counter these fire risks, the consultation document lists out six proposed measures as follows:

1. Overnight storage of commodities only inside enclosed metal structures (without the need to dismantle the stall). This option means that after business hours stall hawkers must keep their goods in enclosed metal boxes (i.e. "cabinets") which are built within the permitted area and to the specified dimensions. Other items have to be removed. Since these cabinets can prevent the spread of fire to a certain extent, this measure can effectively reduce fire risks after business hours. As this option will not bring great change to the existing operation of hawker stalls, it is believed to be suitable for implementation at Fa Yuen Street and in various other hawker areas.

2. Dismantling of stalls and removal of all commodities after close of business. If this option is implemented, stall hawkers will have to identify places for overnight storage of goods and will also need to hire services for the daily dismantling and setting up of stalls. This arrangement may increase their operational costs. The daily dismantling and setting up of metal frames will also cause noise nuisance to nearby residents. Therefore, this option may not be suitable for implementation in all hawker areas.

3. Resiting of hawker areas. Resiting hawker areas can completely eradicate the potential fire risks posed by hawker stalls to adjacent buildings. However, there are many views in the community that hawker areas should be retained as they are rich in traditional characteristics and part of the local culture. Resiting an entire hawker area may also ruin the original character of hawker stalls. Additionally there would be many practical difficulties in implementation, including identifying vacant sites for resiting, soliciting agreement from residents living in the vicinity and the willingness of the hawkers themselves.

4. Resiting of hawker stalls in front of staircase discharge points of buildings. Under this proposal, no stalls should be located within a radial distance of six metres in front of the staircase discharge points of buildings. This measure aims to prevent fire from spreading to staircase discharge points of buildings and dense smoke from causing the "chimney effect" in the event of a fire. Furthermore, according to the FSD, if the carriageway on which hawker stalls are located has been designated as emergency vehicular access, a clear width of at least six metres should be maintained so as to allow for the passage of fire engines and the operation of aerial ladders/platforms. If the carriageway is less than six metres in width, all hawker stalls on one side or even both sides of the road will have to be resited.

5. Installation of fixed fire resisting structures to enclose stalls on three sides and the top cum installation of sprinkler system. There are views in the community that the hardware of hawker stalls should be enhanced with a view to thoroughly improving the fire safety of these stalls. According to the FSD and the Buildings Department, it will be an effective fire safety measure if hawker stalls are enclosed on three sides and the top with structures constructed of fire resisting materials which offer a fire resistance period of at least one hour and sprinkler systems are installed within the structures.

6. Voluntary licence surrender scheme for fixed pitch hawkers. As some of the proposed measures involve the resiting of stalls, the Government suggests that a voluntary licence surrender scheme for fixed pitch hawkers be introduced to speed up natural wastage. Records show that many fixed pitch hawkers are elderly people who are no longer fully capable of operating their business properly. Many employ assistants to run the business on their behalf, a situation that encourages subletting. If this measure is successfully implemented, some on-street stall sites can be vacated to make room for stall re-arrangement, thus reducing the fire risks posed to nearby buildings.

     Dr Chow said that subject to the outcome of the consultation, the Government considers there will not be a one-size-fits-all package of measures to be implemented across the board in all hawker areas. The Government will look at the surrounding physical environment and characteristics of individual hawker areas and consider the implementation of one or more improvement measures on a case-by-case basis.

     Meanwhile, in light of the ability of the existing "cabinets" to contain the spread of fire to some extent, it is practical to first implement the arrangement of "overnight storage of commodities only inside enclosed metal stall structures", and then progressively require stall hawkers to use materials which offer a fire resistance period of at least one hour, instead of ordinary metals, to construct the "cabinets", and try as far as possible to resite those hawker stalls located in front of staircase discharge points of buildings. This will considerably reduce fire risks without making fundamental changes to the operation of hawker stalls. Such arrangements should be suitable for implementation in many fixed pitch hawker areas.

     Dr Chow reiterated that, as far as the management of hawker stalls is concerned, standing still is not an option and we should not leave the hidden fire risks untackled. "The review of hawker stall management requires our immediate attention. We hope to listen to the views from hawker stall owners, District Councils and the public," he said.

     "We will draw up and implement improvement measures having regard to the local circumstances of individual hawker areas. The measures will be taken forward in stages, starting with those which are easier to implement first. During the process, we will take into account the views of all stakeholders."

     Copies of the consultation document "Management of Fixed Pitch Hawker Areas" can be downloaded from the websites of the Food and Health Bureau ( and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department ( Views and comments can be sent to the Hawkers and Markets Section, Headquarters Division, Environmental Hygiene Branch, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department at 45/F, Queensway Government Offices, 66 Queensway, Hong Kong; or e-mail to; or fax to 2530 1368 by May 7, 2012.

Ends/Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Issued at HKT 19:15


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