How shopfront extension penalties are killing businesses in Sai Kung
Businesses placing products outside of their shop front may become a thing of the past, as the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) crackdown on stores in Sai Kung. Since September 24, a fixed penalty system against shop front extensions (SFE) has been in effect, and those found guilty without a license will now face a fine of $1,500 along with a point deduction and a potential temporary shop closure.
Previously, shops caught red handed would need to go through a lengthy court process before being fined, with the average sum less than $600. The fixed penalty system for SFE has been introduced as a deterrent to prevent shops from obstructing public places. “The problem of shop front obstruction is very serious in Sai Kung town centre” said Ng Sze-Fuk, Chairman of the Sai Kung District Community.
Some local shop owners believe the regulation should apply to Sai Kung differently, “On weekdays, [Sai Kung] streets aren’t that busy, how does it even become an obstacle to the public?” questions Vicky Chan, Managing Director of Chip In Fish & Chips. “People who come to Sai Kung just want to enjoy the sun in alfresco areas. Dog walkers want to sit outside as dogs are not allowed inside the restaurant. And shops want to get the attention of customers by showing products outside of the shop.”
Shop owners are particularly unhappy at the lack of consultation before the strict enforcement began. “In past two years, the police or the FEHD officer only gave verbal warning on shop extension but not consultation.” said Chan. A government officer confirmed that a consultation was in fact launched across Hong Kong, but it seems not at a district-level in Sai Kung. In a recent meeting between the District Council and Sai Kung residents, Ng Sze-Fuk acknowledges the issue, “Departments need to carry out their responsibilities and councilors should enhance consultation with the residents.”
Thanks to the community’s strong opposition to the new law, representatives of the related departments will temporarily suspend strict enforcement until sufficient communication and coordination has occurred.
It seems the problem all stems from a few years back when pharmacies were placing boxes of diapers and other goods at the shop front. “It was the trend and was generating huge amounts of turnover,” Chan explained. “The government also seem to want to close down the traditional wet markets for more ‘manageable’, ‘cleaner’ and ‘civilised’ alternatives.“
Chan is now in the process of drafting a proposal to the Sai Kung community, explaining the implications of the law on Sai Kung. “Sai Kung needs the exception because it forms part of the unique characteristics of the community. We want shops to sign and support, to voice out to the local councillors and to the government.”
Before the fixed penalty system for SFE came into effect, Raymond Young Lap-moon, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, raised the possibility that areas where shop front extension boosted ‘local character’, the rules may be relaxed. Whether Sai Kung falls into this category is yet to be determined.