The District Council at the heart of banning alfresco dining in Central and Western complained that the government had passed the buck to district councils on the use of public open space without providing proper guidelines for approvals (see reference).
“We are being set up. We shouldn’t be the ones to make the decision,” council chairman Chan Chit-kwai said, urging the government to issue guidelines for their reference.
Point 1. When I first read about this commotion yesterday, I immediately suspected “the problem lies with lack of communication between government departments and district councils”. It turns out there are at least 3 levels involved: Development Bureau, Lands Department, and poor little “left out” District Council.
Point 2. Who actually gets the rent money? If the rent goes directly to the Lands Department, then it is little wonder the District Council are causing such a commotion.
Restaurants take aim at outdoor ban
Key players oppose decision on public spaces in Central and Western
May 22, 2009
A ban on alfresco dining in public open space in Central and Western district has hurt Hong Kong’s image as a world city, two major players in the food and beverage industry say.
The complaints came as the district’s councillors gave a three-month grace period to an Italian restaurant yesterday to comply with the ban. The councillors, under pressure to reverse the ban, said they did not want to approve the cases by themselves and called for government guidelines to help their decision making.
The ban, imposed by the district council in January, was triggered by a revelation last year that the Times Square developer had profited from renting out a public piazza and limited public access.
“I’m surprised that Hong Kong said it’s Asia’s world city. It is taking a backward step,” said Grant Baird, operations director of the Epicurean Group. The group manages about 50 restaurants in the city, of which at least 10 are in Lan Kwai Fong.
“The move basically kills the business like the smoking ban,” corporate development director Larry Cowle added.
The pair were responding to the plight of the Gaia Group, which had been told by the Lands Department that its licence for running an Italian alfresco dining facility at Grand Millennium Plaza in Sheung Wan would end in mid-July because of the council’s opposition. The facility had been approved since 2004.
Representatives of the Epicurean Group and Igor’s Group, another high-class catering company, attended a council meeting to show support for Gaia. Both said the decision would “kill their business”. “It’s a big decision and the council is trying to represent Hong Kong. I don’t think it’s very good,” said Mark Cholewka, operations director of Igor’s, which would have nearly 40 restaurants by next month, some on waterfronts.
Gaia’s chairman David Cheung stressed in the meeting that its Italian restaurant had been paying a HK$180,000 annual fee for operating at the plaza and the business had not caused any public disturbance. Some elderly people had even said the tables and chairs provided by the restaurant made the plaza a friendly space to rest and meet old friends.
The councillors said they were willing to reconsider the decision. They complained that the government had passed the buck to district councils on the use of public open space without providing proper guidelines for approvals. “We are being set up. We shouldn’t be the ones to make the decision,” council chairman Chan Chit-kwai said, urging the government to issue guidelines for their reference.
While some councillors complained the Italian restaurant allowed customers to smoke outdoors, others said they could not judge whether it had abused the use of public open space. Mr Chan said the council would send a team of volunteers to inspect about 100 public areas in the district and gauge public views on the use of such places.
The inspection and survey would take six months.
In the meantime, it agreed to allow Gaia to operate outdoors temporarily until October while it sought advice from Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
A spokeswoman for the Development Bureau said it would monitor further developments, adding that an application for commercial use of a public open space would be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking account of lease conditions and views of relevant district councils.