Category: Local Services

Govt makes beaches U-turn – but they’re still closed this weekend

After three months, Hong Kong’s beach shutdown has officially ended – but you still won’t be able to legally visit a beach until next Tuesday.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Hong Kong’s 39 public beaches, announced the lifting of the ban earlier this week.

The re-opening, which includes Lantau’s popular Cheung Sha, Pui O, Tong Fuk and Silvermine Bay beaches, coincides with the regular end of the lifeguard season, so there will be no lifeguards on duty.

The decision came six weeks after swimming pools were opened again and just three days after a critical South China Morning Post article asked why Hong Kongers were now free to visit Singapore but not the local beach.

Ocean Recovery Alliance founder Doug Woodring pointed out to the SCMP “there’s hundreds of people in Central standing right next to each other on every street corner every day.”

By contrast, “when people go to the beach, they like to stay separate naturally.”

An LCSD spokesperson said the closures were due to “the open environment” of beaches that made it “difficult to enforce the epidemic prevention and social distancing measures as implemented in sports venues and swimming pools.”

Three days later, these social distancing measure suddenly became enforceable as the department lifted its ban, although it did remind people to wear a mask “at all times” on the beach.

In reality, the beach closures have been somewhat farcical all along and there is no shortage of Lantau residents who have continued to swim, walk or exercise their dog on the beach despite the official closures.

That is because the restrictions apply only to the area inside the rope and the shark net. Outside are no limits, but there also are no lifeguard services and the waters are often more dangerous.

This has brought other problems. As Olivier Courret, who runs a group called Open Water Swimmers of Hong Kong, told the SCMP:

“The main issue is people swimming outside the safety nets because they don’t have a choice any more,” he said. “And some of them don’t have open water common sense, or skills, and I could see them putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Not for the first time, the government had made the right decision after exhausting all other possibilities.

Photo: Pui O Beach (file photo)

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Mui-Wo pop-up market attracts huge interest

Ashleigh Theunissen, the organiser of a Mui Wo pop-up market, says she’s been overwhelmed with interest in the retail event.

Since announcing it on Facebook she says she’s had inquiries from people wanting to sell crafts such as jewellery and fabrics, importers of goods including Kenyan products, and those offering edibles such as scones, jams and cookies.

The market, located next to Pause Cafe (opposite the children’s playground) is planned for September 12-13.

With the high level of interest already shown, Ashleigh is confident she can put on further markets every two weeks.

It’s a small space though, with only room for around 10 stalls, so places will be allocated on a first-come first-serve basis.

Ashleigh, who lives at Tai Tei Tong, said she is setting up the market to provide “something new and exciting” for Lantau on the weekend.

“It also gives people the opportunity to grow their small businesses.”

To become a stallholder, contact Ashleigh for a registration form at

You can also follow @muiwomarket on Instagram and Facebook.

Reopenings: Lantau fitness centres, beaches, Tung Chung pool

The Tung Chung pool and library and local fitness centres have reopened as the city begins its return to normal.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department last week announced the reopening of Tung Chung and 32 other local swimming pools across Hong Kong, starting Thursday.

It also has opened the Tung Chung library and sent lifeguards back to Pui O and Silvermine Bay beaches, allowing them to open for the first time since March.

However, the Mui Wo library and swimming pool remain shut, as are – officially – the popular Cheung Sha and Tong Fuk beaches, although both beaches have attracted weekend crowds the past month.

Mui Wo pool

But most sports centres have reopened, including the Mui Wo and Tung Chung centres.

The Mui Wo gym is available daily at slightly shortened hours. From Tues-Fri it is opening from 9am to 10pm, with one-hour closure for cleaning at 1pm and 5pm. On Sunday it is open from 1-5pm and 6-10pm.

Pui O campsite has reopened at half capacity, but other Lantau campsites are still closed.

Picnickers can use Lantau barbecue sites but in groups of no more than eight, LCSD says.

Budget promises local health care centre and hospital expansion

District health centres are to be established across Hong Kong and planning will shortly begin for the expansion of North Lantau Hospital, the government’s 2018-19 budget reveals.

Handing down the budget today, Financial Secretary Paul Chan says the first centre would be built in Kwai Chung in the third quarter of 2019, “after which we will progressively set up such centres in all 18 districts.”

He said he would set aside required resources to support the initiative, although he did not say where in Islands district the community centre would be located.

Chan said community-based healthcare could raise awareness of personal healthcare management and improve medical and rehabilitation services, thus reducing the load on hospitals.

North Lantau Hospital, which hit the headlines last year after an Audit Commission report assailed it for waste and mismanagement, is also set to expand. The commission found a fifth of the hospital was empty and some expensive medical equipment had been barely used.

Planning for the expansion will get underway in the 2020s to cope with the influx of more than 100,000 new residents within the next decade, Chan said.

Following release of the budget, Hospital Authority chairman Prof John Leung said the authority would commission more services for North Lantau hospital later this year.

Tung Chung’s new public market won’t open until at least 2023

The government has rebuffed requests from district councillors to build a public market in central Tung Chung.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) official have also declined to build a temporary market to serve residents before the new market is ready in five years.

Responding to Islands District Councillor members Eric Kwok and Holden Chow, the department says there is no room in the town centre for a market and it will go ahead with a site it has identified in Tung Chung east.

But that won’t be ready until residents move into Tung Chung east, one of the city’s major housing expansion projects, which won’t be finished until at least 2023.

Kwok says residents’ groups have been pressing the FEHD for three years on three possible sites: the temporary bus terminus on Tat Tung Rd, the vacant lot space behind the North Lantau and next to the bus depot at Chung Wai Street.

Until now, the department has not given a formal response.

In a written reply to Kwok, it said it had no plans to set up a temporary market, citing hygiene, safety, water supply and other issues.

“At this stage we are focusing our efforts on the construction of new public markets,” it said.

It said the new market was “conveniently” located next to the planned Tung Chung East MTR station, currently scheduled to open in 2026.

Kwok said new markets are also planned for the Ying Tung estate in Tung Chung east and Mun Tung, now nearing completion in Tung Chung west.

But both will be put to commercial tender, raising fears of a repeat of the Link REIT experience, he says.

Link REIT, a real estate trust which owns markets across Hong Kong, including Tung Chung’s Fu Tung, has been accused of pricing rents too high for small businesses and consumers.

Many Yat Tung residents travel out of Tung Chung to do their shopping because of the high local prices.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam committed to building a new public market in Tung Chung in her September policy address.

Government planners say Tung Chung’s population, currently below 90,00, will increase to nearly 250,000 over the next eight years as a result of new projects in Man Tung, Tung Chung west and Tung Chung east.

Audit report attacks N. Lantau Hospital over waste

An auditor’s report has lambasted the North Lantau Hospital over its wasteful use of space and medical equipment.

Four years after being commissioned, a fifth of the hospital remains empty while tens of millions of dollars of equipment is under-used or has not been used at all, the report found.

In its October report to Legco, the Audit Commission revealed that of the hospital’s 13,729 sq m, 2,867 sq m remained empty or “had not been utilised for the intended functions,” including 2,204 sq m in space allocated for wards.

In one instance, the commission staff recorded an empty ward being used as a gym.

Hospital ward gym (Source: Audit Commission)

The report also found that of the ten major items of medical equipment, seven were being used at a rate below 60% of the forecast level.

These included a HK$7 million heart scanning unit being used at a 22% rate, and a prescription dispenser and an anaesthetics information system, each costing more than HK$3 million, being used at below 50%.

Many smaller items had never been used at all, including 42 electric beds and ten electric wheelchairs.

Unused beds and wheelchairs (Source: Audit Commission)

The report noted that some medical services had still not been commissioned, such as an out-patient gynaecology and paediatrics service that had been promised for 2014, and the provision of day-beds for day surgery patients, proposed for 2016.

It chastised Hospital Authority (HA) management for failing to keep the board informed about the status of these services and on when they were expected to be deployed.

The commission urged the HA to make more precise estimates of its requirements and to determine whether under-utilised spaces and equipment could be put to gainful use.

N. Lantau water treatment plant to double to meet population growth

The Water Supplies Department says it needs to double the size of its north Lantau water treatment plant to cope with the development of Tung Chung and the airport district.

It proposes boosting the capacity of the Siu Ho Wan Water Treatment Works from 150,000 cubic metres a day to 300,000 cubic metres daily.

The department has not indicated how much the expansion plan will cost, but it will seek funds from the Legislative Council for research and design early next year and then carry out a study, Oriental Daily reports.

Construction is expected to start in 2021 and will be completed in 2025.

As well as expanding the Siu Ho Wan plant, it will install a pipe along South Lantau Road to increase the flow of water from Shek Pik Reservoir, and build a booster station to improve supply from Tai Lam Chung Reservoir.  It will also increase the capacity of the Pui Oi pumping station.

Under the Tung Chung extension plan its population is expected to increase from approximately 80,000 today to 268,000 in the mid-2020s.

Mui Wo gym isn’t getting a workout

The government-run fitness centre in Mui Wo is the least-used in Hong Kong, according to figures compiled by a legislator.

Luk Chung-hung, Legco member for the pro-Beijing labour organisation FTU, says the Mui Wo centre was used at a rate of just 14% in 2015 and 2016.

Other under-used government gyms include those at Ap Lei Chau, Kowloon Park, Tseung Kwan O and Peng Chau.

By contrast Ngau Tau Kok, the most heavily-used Leisure and Cultural Services Dept (LCSD) fitness centre, has had a utilisation rate of 98% and 85% in the last two years.

Luk told a press conference last week that the figures show the utilization rate of all 74 gyms  is at a long-term low, Oriental Daily reports.

In most cases the less popular centres were the smallest.

Of the 17 least-used gyms in the first three months of the year, 13 were smaller than 100 square metres and had a utilisation rate of below 50%.  But of the 13 that were bigger than 170 square metres, just three were below the 50% mark.

The legislator said in some centres the equipment was old and damaged, while people were also deterred by the requirement that they register and attend a briefing in order to become a member.

Lu said all new gyms should be at least 100 sq metres in size. He called on the department to better resource the fitness centres and to review their “distribution, targeting and functions.”

UPDATE: According to Luk’s office, the LCSD formula for measuring utilisation is the number of users ÷ maximum user capacity.  The capacity number varies between peak and off-peak periods.  Every gym user needs has to sign their name before entering, so the number of users can be calculated by counting signatures.

Govt promises new Tung Chung public market

The government has promised to build a new public market in Tung Chung to meet the district’s growing population.

It’s one of a number of measures on shopping markets announced in the CE policy address earlier in October and confirmed by a senior official in responses to Legco.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is also promising to provide air-conditioning to 11 market sites and to “improve facilities and administration” at all markets, Ming Pao reports. Other new public markets are planned for Tin Shui Wai and Hung Shui Kiu.

Government planners predict that Tung Chung’s population will increase from around 80,000 residents today to approximately 268,000 by the middle of the next decade.

Tung Chung’s Yat Tung, along with Tin Shui Wai, is one of the city’s most economically-challenged areas, with high unemployment and low incomes. Many residents say they are unable to afford local supermarket prices, and take advantage of a government transport subsidy to travel to Mong Kok each week to buy food and necessities.

Community group Alliance on the Development of Public Markets has complained that the government proposal contains no detail and no timetable.

Two years ago the group recommended five sites for a new Tung Chung market, but has so far had no official response. The proposed sites include the Tung Chung Cable Station next to Tat Tung Road Garden, the Chung Wai St bus depot and the Yat Tung No. 3 car park.

The group called on the government to set out its timetable for the construction of the markets and to consult widely on site selection and the market scale.

Photo: Market, Yat Tung (Lantau News)

Big banks ignore plea for Tung Chung branches

Hong Kong’s major banks have turned a deaf ear to a call for the establishment of branches in Tung Chung.

Islands District Councillor Holden Chow has complained that none of the big three banks – HSBC, Bank of China Hong Kong (BoCHK) and Standard Chartered – has a branch in Tung Chung.

He points out that with the area’s population forecast to triple in the coming years, and with the continued rise in tourist numbers, there was an urgent need to provide banking services to the community.

In a written question at to the District Council he called on the financial regulator, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to press the three banks on the issue.

However, in their responses the banks have confirmed they have no plans to introduce local banking services.

HSBC, which has branches at Discovery Bay, Cathay City, Mui Wo and at both airport terminal buildings, said it reviews its branch network “from time to time” but it is currently not considering one in Tung Chung.

BoCHK and Standard Chartered both said they had noted Chow’s suggestion but would not be taking action.

“Your view has been noted and will used as a reference for the Bank to optimise and adjust branch deployments in due course,” BoCHK said.