Hong Kong’s security chief has said that industrial buildings are not appropriate venues for performances, citing fire safety concerns.

Lai Tung-kwok’s comments came in the aftermath of May’s high-profile arrests of foreign musicians and the founder of industrial unit-based live house Hidden Agenda. Hui Chung-wo was charged with immigration offences, as the musicians did not obtain work visas.

Lai Tung-kwok
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok.

The arrests have led to several other overseas bands cancelling scheduled performances at the independent Kwun Tong venue, as pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam says that the Immigration Department has been refusing to grant work visas to artists performing at industrial units.

Speaking to broadcaster TVB on Sunday, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said that industrial buildings should not host performances, as performance venues must have strict fire safety requirements due to large crowds.

“An industrial building is not designed for [performances],” he said. “For example, you would not put a cinema in an industrial building.”

Aside from arts groups, commercial offices and even restaurants have relocated into units in former industrial areas such as Kwun Tong over recent few decades, because of skyrocketing rents in other parts of the city.

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“There are specific requirements in relation to various fire-resistant materials [at performance venues],” added Lai.

The Security Bureau, Housing Department and Fire Services Department jointly submitted a bill to the legislature in April, suggesting higher fire safety standards for industrial buildings constructed before 1987.

Sarcastic response

Hidden Agenda responded sarcastically to Lai’s comments in a Facebook post, questioning how concert-goers and musical equipment would be more dangerous than factory workers and machines.

“Mr. Secretary, we know that the hundreds of people working in factory buildings in the past are artificially-intelligent robots, and are not alive,” wrote founder Hui Chung-wo. “Even if there was an accident there would be no threat towards the robots.”

Hidden Agenda
Hidden Agenda, Kwun Tong. File photo: Tom Grundy.

“We also know that Hidden Agenda has three fire escape routes that lead straight outdoors – that’s more dangerous than commercial and tenement buildings, which only have one route.”

“We also know that a spacious venue is more dangerous in a fire accident than an office filled with furniture and goods made out of plastic and paper.”

See also: CY Leung defends raid on live house Hidden Agenda, hails success of industrial building revitalisation

As a unit in an industrial building, Hidden Agenda officially operates as a food factory, having obtained a licence from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. However, the department has not approved its applications for a place of public entertainment license.

The venue has been subjected to numerous raids at each of its four locations since its establishment in 2009, primarily related to violations of the terms of its industrial land lease.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.