Does Iswaran know what he’s doing with Orchard Road?

Singapore Democrats

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran says that the government will revamp Orchard Road to re-vitalise the shopping belt. One idea he has is to fully pedestrianise the area by closing off the Road to vehicular traffic.

This proposal comes in the midst of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) embarking on a major project since 2004 to construct a series of elevated and underground links throughout Orchard Road.

These links, according to the government, are meant to provide shoppers a “seamless and all-weather comfort” in their retail experience. Stretching from The Forum near Anguilla Park to Orchard Central, the connecting links add up to nearly 30 km.

It, therefore, seems counter-intuitive for Mr Iswaran to now propose to close off Orchard Road and “fully pedestrianise” it. Do we want to drive shoppers underground to avoid the sun and rain or do we want them to stay at street level?

If we want more people to walk along Orchard Road instead of below it, why did we incur so much funds to build the underground links? The tunnels don’t come cheap, they cost taxpayers up to $28,700 per sq to construct.

Besides, the PAP has already spent $40 million to spruce up Orchard Road since 2002 including putting in landscape and infrastructural enhancements, state-of-the-art lighting, creative spaces and a partially closed off Orchard Road.

Back then (2002), the URA stated that there were “already well-used open spaces along Orchard Road where people meet or where events are organised”. Nevertheless, it said that new public spaces would be added and activities organized to keep Orchard Road “buzzing”. The project was completed in 2009.

Despite this, Orchard Road has become “kind of boring”; shopping centres are empty and shops shuttered.

Yet, Mr Iswaran now proposes to close off the entire Orchard Road. Has he forgotten Pedestrian Night where the entire Road was closed to traffic one Saturday night a month? The party was discontinued because of thin crowds and retailers reported no impact on their earnings during the events.

What makes Mr Iswaran think that doing the same on a permanent basis – to include daytime when it is hot – would be any different?

The Minister’s idea to create “a multi-purpose space” to introduce “experiential concepts” sounds suspiciously like what has been done before and failed.

Rather than use such fuzzy terms, he needs to provide more hard data to show that his ideas will work before he spends more of the people’s hard-earned money.

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