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LCQ1: Provision of public and private market facilities

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Che-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 11):


     When divesting certain retail and carpark facilities of its public housing estates to The Link Real Estate Investment Trust in 2005, the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) advised that the Government would not interfere with the operation of the Trust's manager, The Link Management Limited (now renamed as "Link Asset Management Limited" (the Link)), on the ground that it was a private enterprise, but undertook to adopt measures to regulate the continued provision of services to residents by the company. However, some residents of Tin Yiu Estate in Tin Shui Wai have complained to me that the Link recently proposed a plan to convert Tin Yiu Market into a shopping mall (the conversion plan), neglecting their needs to purchase fresh food products. In response to media enquiries, the Link has indicated that while it plans to relocate the wet goods stalls in Tin Yiu Market, the dry goods part will be retained. The Link has further advised that it has been adhering to the relevant land leases in proceeding with the matter. The residents have also queried that they are unable to find out whether the number of public market stalls available in the district upon the implementation of the conversion plan will be in compliance with the relevant guidelines under the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the details of the conversion plan; if it does, of the details; whether the authorities have received applications for changes in land use and land lease conditions, as well as other applications that require vetting and approval by government departments, which were submitted by the Link in respect of the conversion plan; if they have, of the details;

(2) whether it has assessed if the conversion plan will result in a reduction of the public market services provided for local residents, i.e. the Link will not continue to provide the residents with the original services; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the affirmative, of the means through which the authorities can prevent the Link from taking forward the plan; and

(3) given that while the Government amended in 2009 the number of wet market stalls set out in HKPSG to stipulate that in the planning of new public markets, in addition to the original practice of using population size as the planning guideline for public markets, other relevant factors (including community needs) must also be taken into account, but members of the public have been unable to find out whether the supply of public markets is adequate, whether the Government will conduct afresh comprehensive planning for the supply of public markets (including those built and managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, HKHA, the Hong Kong Housing Society, the Link, and the private sector) in the light of the population size and enhance the transparency of the planning work; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     According to the Link Asset Management Limited (the Link), the conversion works now being pursued would entail rconsolidation of stalls in Tin Yiu Plaza (the Plaza), which is situated at Tin Yiu Estate in Tin Shui Wai.  The wet market stalls within the Plaza will be moved to the adjacent Tin Shing Market currently under renovation (whereas the two markets are seven to 10 minutes away from each other in terms of walking distance and connected by a footbridge and lift). There will be shops selling vegetables, meat and food items in the Plaza after the consolidation.  The Plaza will be air-conditioned. Tin Shing Market, on the other hand, will be re-opened by two phases in end 2015 and early 2016. Its total floor area will be the aggregate sum of the existing Tin Yiu Market and Tin Shing Market before renovation. It will also be air-conditioned.  

     At present, in Tin Shui Wai, apart from Tin Yiu Market, there are other markets managed by the Link and the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA), as well as commercial facilities operated by private entities. In addition to the abovementioned Tin Shing Market in Tin Shing Court (adjacent to Tin Yiu Estate), the Link also operates markets in Tin Shui Estate, Tin Chak Estate and Chung Fu Plaza.  Furthermore, the HKHA operates Tin Yan Shopping Centre and Tin Ching Shopping Centre, including a market provided in Tin Yan Shopping Centre.

     My answers to the respective parts of the question are as follows:

1) With respect to whether and if so what vetting procedures that the conversion works of Tin Yiu Market, Tin Shui Wai have to go through, the details are given below:

(a) Tin Yiu Market is located on the first floor of Tin Yiu Plaza at Tiu Yiu Estate, Tin Shui Wai. The site currently falls within an area zoned "Residential (Group A)" on the approved Tin Shui Wai Outline Zoning Plan No. S/TSW/12 (the OZP). According to the OZP, "Market" is an always permitted use, whereas on the lowest three floors of a building (including basements, or the purpose-designed non-residential portion of an existing building), "Eating Place" and "Shop and Services" are also an always permitted use. In other words, no planning permission from the Town Planning Board is required for uses that are always permitted.

(b) Same as other private properties, conversion works at Tin Yiu Market are subject to the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) (BO). The authorised person is required to make a submission to the Building Authority according to the BO. Since Tin Yiu Market is a divested property of the HKHA, the Director of Buildings, as the Building Authority (BA), has delegated his statutory power to the Independent Checking Unit (ICU) of the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Housing) to process the submission in accordance with the BO, and circulate the applicant's submission to relevant departments, such as Planning Department, Lands Department (LandsD) and Fire Services Department as per the established practice of the Buildings Department (BD).

     Based on the requirements stipulated in the BO and the prevailing procedures of the BD, the ICU, in exercising the authority delegated to it by the BA, approved in May 2015 the submission concerning Tin Yiu Market.    

(c) In addition, the Link must comply with the relevant lease conditions and covenants between the Link and the HKHA.

     Under the lease conditions of Tin Yiu Estate (i.e. Tin Shui Wai Town Lot No. 38 (the Lot)), the Lot is restricted to non-industrial (excluding godown, hotel and petrol filling station) purposes. The proposed conversion of the concerned market to other commercial uses, such as a shopping complex, does not breach the user clause stipulated in the lease conditions. According to the building plans circulated to the LandsD by the ICU with respect to the proposed conversion of Tin Yiu Market into a shopping complex, the conversion will not cause the total gross floor area of commercial facilities as specified in the lease to be exceeded.

     The covenants between the HKHA and the Link contain restrictive covenants. Those covenants require the owners of the commercial and carparking facilities to continue to let out certain commercial units to non-profit-making organisations nominated by the Education Bureau or the Social Welfare Department at concessionary rents for operating social welfare and educational facilities.

     As with other private owners, the Link must comply with the legislative regulations (including the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap. 131) and the BO), and must comply with the lease conditions and covenants with the HKHA. These ensure that changes in the management or control of the facilities divested by the HKHA will not affect the continuation of uses as commercial, car parking, educational, social welfare and recreational facilities.

2) According to the Housing Department, the Government has explained to the Legislative Council on various previous occasions the background to and objectives of the divestment of retail and car parking facilities by the HKHA in 2005, as well as the mechanism that is in place to regulate the uses of the relevant facilities. The Link is a private enterprise. So long as its operations comply with the legislation, relevant lease conditions, and terms of covenants made between the Link and HKHA, the Government and HKHA cannot and will not interfere into the day-to-day operation and commercial decisions of the Link, including its conversion works on its properties.

3) Our focus is on facilitating convenient access on the part of the public to retail outlets in their neighbourhood for meeting their daily needs on food and other necessities. Currently, there exists a variety of channels for the public to purchase fresh food. Apart from public markets, many members of the public when purchasing fresh food may choose to patronise markets, supermarkets and various types of retail outlets operated by other public and private entities. Customer preference for different shopping venues in purchasing fresh food may evolve in tandem with changes in socio-economic circumstances, lifestyles, purchasing power and various other factors. Therefore, taking the population of an area as the sole yardstick in the planning of new public markets may not be appropriate.  

     The prevailing Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines with respect of the planning of public markets stipulate the relevant factors to be taken into consideration, including the population of the area (including the demographic mix), community needs, the provision of public and private market facilities nearby, the number of fresh provision retail outlets in the vicinity and the public sentiment towards the preservation of hawker areas. This approach is based on a more holistic consideration of all relevant factors, rather than just the size of the population, in the planning of public markets.  When preparing or reviewing town plans, the Planning Department will consult the relevant policy bureaux and departments, so as to ascertain whether there is a need to reserve land for public markets. We will, in the light of social developments and the actual situation on the ground, assess the need to review the planning guidelines for public markets as and when appropriate.
     Providing a new public market requires the use of Government land and entails public financial commitment. Therefore, in considering whether a public market should be built, we have to duly assess the need for the market and cost effectiveness in order to ensure that public resources are put to proper use. In fact, in the face of fierce competition and changing circumstances in individual communities, some public markets are facing relatively high vacancy rates and low customer flows. Also, the Audit Commission had in previous reports pointed out that, given the high cost of constructing a new public market, the relevant principles should be strictly adhered to.

     In considering whether new public markets should be provided in individual districts, we would take into account all relevant factors, including the abovementioned planning standards and guidelines, the actual situation of individual districts and the views of stakeholders, to ensure that public resources are put to proper use.

Ends/Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:29


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