Maxwell hawkers get NEA 'hongbao'

25 per cent rent rebate given on appeal; hawkers say earnings fell due to MRT works, carpark closure

Hawkers at Maxwell Food Centre have received "hongbao" from the National Environment Agency (NEA) this Chinese New Year - a 25 per cent rebate off their rents for a year.

Nearly all the hawkers there had signed a petition last December, appealing to the NEA for rental relief. This was after their earnings fell by as much as 50 per cent after construction work for the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT line started in mid-2014, and a carpark in Erskine Road serving the hawker centre was closed last March.

They said the drop in footfall started when the construction hoardings went up in mid-2014, affecting visibility, and got worse with the loss of the carpark's 90-plus parking spaces.

An NEA spokesman said that the rebates will be granted to the hawkers for the period from Oct 1 last year to Sept 30 this year, and that the hawkers have been notified of the rebate by post recently.

Such appeals to NEA are assessed on a case-by-case basis, said the spokesman.

For example, when Pasir Panjang Food Centre was affected by the construction of the Circle Line between 2005 and 2010, stallholders were granted a 30 per cent reduction on their service and conservancy charges and table-cleaning fees. Stallholders there do not have to pay rent as the food centre is under the Stall Ownership Scheme.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which the Maxwell hawkers had also approached for help, has agreed to open the URA Centre's main carpark in Maxwell Road for public use during weekday evenings and weekends.

A URA spokesman said that the URA Centre is traditionally open to the public to cater to demand for parking at Chinatown during the festive period, but it will now be kept open till 2021, when construction work for the Maxwell MRT station is slated to be completed. The policy will then be reviewed.

Maxwell Food Centre has more than 100 stalls. Its stall rentals are from $320 to about $4,300 a month.

A representative for the Maxwell hawkers, Mr Richard Ng, 60, welcomed the moves by the authorities. "At least 10 stalls have closed down since last October but, hopefully, these concessions can help the hawkers out and prevent more stalls from pulling out," he said.

Madam Jolene Hoon, 58, who works at the Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake stall, said the rebates will help to alleviate the 30 per cent drop in earnings that the stall suffered last year.

"Business has also picked up over the festive season and I hope that it will stay that way after that," said Madam Hoon.

This article was first published on Feb 15, 2016.
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