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LCQ14: The organisation of bazaars and activities in public rental housing estates by community groups
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (February 15):

     Some members of the public have relayed to me that since the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) divested a large number of its shopping centres and markets to The Link Real Estate Investment Trust (now known as Link Real Estate Investment Trust (Link REIT)) in 2005, the majority of the retail facilities in public rental housing (PRH) estates have been monopolized by chain stores operated by large consortiums, resulting in inflated prices of commodities and a heavier burden on the livelihood of residents.  Those members of the public have suggested that HKHA rent out the common areas within PRH estates to facilitate the organisation of bazaars and activities by community groups, with a view to enabling residents to purchase daily necessities at relatively lower prices and promoting the development of community economy.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the locations and areas of the existing common areas such as open spaces, community gardens and gardens within various PRH estates (set out in a table);
(2) of the locations and areas of the existing common areas, that are solely owned by HKHA, within various PRH estates (set out in a table);
(3) whether the Housing Department (HD) has studied which existing places in various PRH estates are suitable venues for activities organised by community groups; if so, of the names, addresses and areas of such places, as well as the number of activities approved by HD to be held at such places in the past three years and the details of such activities (set out in a table); if not, the reasons for that;
(4) whether HD has studied which existing places in various PRH estates are suitable venues for bazaars organised by community groups; if so, of the names, addresses and areas of such places; if not, the reasons for that; the respective numbers of applications for organising bazaars at such places that were approved and rejected by HD in the past three years, as well as the number of applications currently under process;
(5) whether HD has established any cooperation platform to assist community groups in organising bazaars and activities in PRH estates; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(6) as HD has repeatedly indicated that due to restrictions imposed by lease conditions, activities involving commercial elements and cash transactions are not allowed in some PRH estates, of the vetting and approval criteria adopted by HD for assessing whether the relevant applications are in compliance with such requirements; whether HD will formulate special measures for bazaars where cash transactions are involved, with a view to facilitating the organisation of bazaars by community groups; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(7) given that applications for organising bazaars in the common areas within PRH estates are subject to the approval or granting of licences by several government departments (including the Lands Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department as well as the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department) other than HD, whether HD will collaborate with those government departments in setting up an inter-departmental group to look into ways to streamline the relevant vetting and approval procedure; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(8) as HKHA advised last year that it kept an open mind towards the proposal of organising a bazaar at the amphitheatre of Tin Yiu Estate, but consent from Link REIT was required for the proposal because the common areas of Tin Yiu Estate were jointly owned by HKHA and Link REIT, of the progress of the related follow-up work?

     Having consulted the Food and Health Bureau, my consolidated reply to the questions raised by Dr the Hon Kwok Ka-ki is set out as follows.
     The primary function of the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) is to provide public rental housing to low income families which cannot afford private rental accommodation.  HA makes reference to the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG) and consults relevant Government departments and organisations, District Councils and local communities in planning the provision of appropriate facilities in public housing estates.
     In general, public housing estates are densely populated.  Open spaces on the ground level are often used as sitting-out areas and facilities for residents' use in order to meet the planning requirements under the HKPSG, or as passage for residents, etc.  Regarding proposals to change the use of these common spaces from serving the residents to other uses, HA has to study carefully the impact on individual estates, as well as the views of residents and other stakeholders.  If some facilities in the estates concerned are owned by other parties, consent from other owners will also be required for any proposal involving the use of common spaces in the estates for other purposes.
     The design of individual estate varies and the provision of sitting-out areas, greening areas, community gardens, parks, etc. also varies.  The Housing Department (HD) does not maintain statistics on the location or size of these common spaces.  As regards public housing estates under HA which do not involve other owners, a list is provided at Annex for reference.
     With a view to enhancing community building and sense of neighbourliness, as well as promoting a harmonious community, HD has all along been rendering support to Mutual Aid Committees, Estate Management Advisory Committees (EMAC) and local organisations to hold various types of activities in public housing estates in collaboration with Government departments and non-government organisations (NGOs).  These activities include cultural programmes, educational promotion programmes and exhibitions, fund-raising activities such as Flag Day, etc.  Since these activities are estate-led, aim at serving the residents and are held across the territories, HD does not maintain a centralised record of the details, nature and number of such activities.
     In addition, HA has, since 2009, allocated funds for EMAC to partner with NGOs to carry out community building activities according to the needs and aspirations of individual housing estates.  The scheme has been well received by EMAC, tenants and other stakeholders.  On average, more than 400 partnering functions of various categories and themes are held annually.  During the period from 2009 to January 2017, around 3 000 partnering functions including seminars, workshops, performances and carnivals were held.  These functions cover a wide range of themes such as caring for the elderly, supporting services for different target groups, promotion of family cohesion and harmonious community, healthy living, environmental protection, etc.
     Interested parties may submit applications to respective estate management offices, which will vet and approve applications in accordance with established procedures and requirements.  Commercial or advertising activities involving on-the-spot receipt of cash or cheque etc., by the applicants are not allowed.
     Regarding the setting up of bazaars, the Secretary for Food and Health already stated that the Government would keep an open mind towards proposals for setting up hawker bazaars and considered that it would be desirable to adopt a district-led approach.  As long as the proponents can identify suitable sites for setting up such hawker bazaars and secure support from the local community and the respective District Councils, the Government will provide assistance if food safety and environmental hygiene are not compromised and public passageways are not obstructed.
     Government departments responsible for managing the sites or venues concerned (such as HD, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Home Affairs Department and Lands Department) have established mechanism in handling proposals for organising activities at the venues under their respective purviews.  In general, upon receipt of a specific application, departments will consider whether the proposed activity is suitable to be held at the venue concerned, having regard to the nature of and the intended date for the proposed activity, as well as any other matters relating to the proposed activity and the venue.  Other relevant departments (such as Fire Services Department, the Police and Transport Department) may also offer their views on issues of concern to them.  Specific proposals on setting up of hawker bazaars have to be supported by the respective District Councils before being taken forward.  Once the application is approved, the applicant has to follow all the rules and conditions in using the venue and pay the relevant fees.
     The mechanism adopted by various departments have been established for years with a view to safeguarding public interest, such as proper use of the venue, public safety and order, and addressing the concerns of nearby residents on traffic, noise, environmental hygiene, etc.  The application procedures and approving criteria are open and transparent.  Furthermore, departments will review existing mechanism from time to time with a view to improving the efficiency and simplifying the approving procedures.  On the premise of the above, the Government is willing to consider any specific proposals which are not against public interest.
     HA will act in accordance with the Government's policy on the setting up of hawker bazaars.  On receipt of specific proposals for setting up bazaars within public housing estates managed by HD, HD will examine the feasibility and the impact of the proposals which are supported by the local community and the respective District Councils in the light of the needs and circumstances of the estates concerned.  As mentioned above, public housing estates are generally densely populated and open spaces on the ground level are often used for passage, sitting-out areas or common spaces for residents' use.  Therefore, HD has not compiled a list of venues in public housing estates for the setting up of bazaars and it will depend on individual circumstances.  Should there be enquiries from any organisations, HD is prepared to offer views and explain the Government's policy and relevant approving procedures.
     HA has received proposals from community organisations in the past for the setting up of bazaars at various locations, and has handled them in accordance with the above mechanism.  However, HA does not maintain statistics of such proposals.  Take the proposal for the setting up of bazaars at Tung Chung as an example, the Islands District Council has formed a Working Group on Promotion of Bazaar Development to discuss and follow up on the proposal.  Relevant Government departments also participated in the Working Group.
     In respect of the proposal for setting up a bazaar at the amphitheater of Tin Yiu Estate, HD will continue to liaise with the owners concerned.  Meanwhile, HD is also studying whether the proposal is in compliance with the requirements in the land lease and Deed of Mutual Covenant, as well as seeking views from Lands Department.  The Tin Shui Wai (South) Area Committee also discussed the proposal at its meeting on February 13, 2017.  Upon the clarification on the feasibility in respect of the land lease, Deed of Mutual Covenant and technical matters, organisations concerned will submit their proposal to the Culture, Recreation, Community Service and Housing Committee of the Yuen Long District Council for discussion.
Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:20
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