A rise in complaints about cooking fumes has led environmental watchdogs to develop a scheme which ill mean that every new restaurant owner has to fit advanced fume filters before opening.

Existing restaurants will be exempt however, because of fears that more financial commitments could sink a flagging catering industry. “We would only require existing ones to install the new device if they repeatedly fail to reduce excessive fumes,” said environmental protection officer Tang Kin-fai.

He added, “ it is worth spending on the new device as it will solve the problem once and for all.”

Costing $70,000 to purchase, the space-saving filter is called an electrostatic precipitator and is believed to filter up to 90% of oily fumes.

Last year, 1,416 complaints about oily fumes represented a 12% increase from those in 1999. Complaints in that year had doubled from those in 1998.

The scheme will be discussed by the industry and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of the government.