Wednesday, 8 June 2016

URA bans new eateries at Upper Thomson, Little India and Bedok dining spots due to parking woes

Popular dining spots in Upper Thomson, Little India and Bedok added to list
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2016

With a slew of old-school restaurants and buzzy new hipster joints, some of which are open round the clock, Thomson Village near Upper Thomson Road is a magnet for diners in the evenings and on weekends.

But the area's popularity has created parking and traffic problems, with multiple instances of illegal parking occurring regularly, and residents in nearby estates complaining about restaurant patrons who park in front of their gates and block their cars.

To prevent the situation from deteriorating, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has banned additional eateries from opening in shophouses in sections along Jalan Todak, Soo Chow Walk, Sin Ming Road and Shunfu Road, as well as Upper Thomson Road.

The area is one of three new spots that the URA, working with the Land Transport Authority, placed on a list of spots with a ban on the opening of new eateries on May 30, "to address the traffic and indiscriminate parking concerns from the residents there due to the existing eating houses in the area".

The other areas are the Little India Historic District, which includes sections along Serangoon Road, Jalan Besar and Kitchener Road, and an area near Bedok Road, including shophouses along Jalan Pari Burong.

There are around 30 eateries in shophouses in Thomson Village, about 12 in the Bedok area, and close to 50 in the Little India Historic District.

Professional bodies representing architects, engineers and real estate agents have been asked to update their members in a circular released by URA. Under the rules, existing eateries can carry on if there are no complaints. But a new food business can move in only if it takes over the space from another unit that is approved for use as an eating house, the URA said.

The list was started in 2002 with eight areas. It focuses on shophouses with eateries that lack parking spaces.

Over the years, new neighbourhoods have been added, while some were taken off the list when the situation improved.

With the new additions, there are now 21 affected areas on the list, including sections of Balestier Road, Kampong Bahru Road, Greenwood Avenue and Serangoon Garden Way. Residents and restaurant owners in the areas welcomed the ban, saying it would alleviate the traffic situation, especially on weekends.

"There are more than a few hundred restaurants in Little India, which is a sufficient number, and there is no need for new eateries to come in. We have received a large number of complaints about the lack of parking spaces in the area," said Mr C. Sankaranathan, president of the Indian Restaurants Association Singapore.

Ms Agnes Fong, 58, who owns a furniture shop in a cluster of shophouses along Jalan Pari Burong, said the parking situation had left her with no choice but to close her business at 7pm, earlier than she would choose to, because customers are unable to find parking spaces at night. "If there are too many eateries here, parking will be an even bigger problem," she said.

However, Mr Shahid Javaid, 42, who owns Usman Restaurant in Serangoon Road, doubted that the new rule could ease congestion in the area. "People come to this area to shop at places like Mustafa Centre, not for food," he said.

A Thomson Ridge resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, said the move was a first step, with more needed to be done to address the noise levels after midnight from the 24-hour joints in the area.

"They don't just park illegally and block your gate, but shout and disturb the residents late at night," said the retiree, who had given feedback to the authorities about the situation.

But while residents are happy, patrons are less so. Customer service associate Nicholas Tay, 24, who frequents the eateries in Thomson Village at least once a month, lamented that the move will decrease the number of dining options.

"It will make it less convenient for consumers," he said.

Additional reporting by Aleysa John and Royanne Ng

URA ban on new eateries in Bedok and Upper Thomson: Food is a fantasy but parking is a nightmare
Owners see URA move as only reining in severe parking problem
By Melody Zaccheus and Carolyn Khew, The Sunday Times, 12 Jun 2016

More than a decade ago, the area around Bedok Road was nowhere near as hip. It was home to a handful of hardware shops and a few eateries offering traditional Malay and Indian Muslim dishes, say residents and shopkeepers there.

Today, it has surged in popularity among young diners and families as it offers a much wider range of food, including fusion fare.

But fame has a price - traffic congestion becomes a nightmare during dining hours on weekends.

To prevent the situation from getting worse, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) two weeks ago placed the area, along with Thomson Village and Little India, on a list of spots where new eateries have been banned from setting up.

The URA said this was "to address the traffic and indiscriminate parking concerns from the residents there due to the existing eating houses in the area".

At Simpang Bedok, there are halal stalls, such as Spize which offers Western and Mediterranean food, and Tang Tea House which sells dim sum. Bedok Marketplace, which re-opened in late 2014, is filled with hipster-type stalls selling a variety of food, from Vietnamese cuisine to meat-centric grills.

Across the road sits East Village which sprang up about two years ago. There are about 20 food-and-beverage options there.

Just three minutes away is the Jalan Pari Burong stretch which has about seven eateries. Customers said they are drawn to the area because of the food choices available.

Mr Jason Ning, 43, who runs Momoya Japanese Restaurant and Thai Table in Jalan Pari Burong, said he moved to the area about six years ago. The draw? Free parking around the area which he thought would be attractive to customers.

Now "everyone is fighting for space", he said.

Diners start streaming in around 6pm. Most parking spaces were filled by nightfall when The Sunday Times visited over three nights.

Spize restaurant stall assistant Ayu Samaei, 37, said the open-air carpark in Simpang Bedok is at its most crowded around 8pm. "Our customers tell us that they have a hard time finding parking."

It gets even more chaotic during special occasions like Mother's Day, shop owners said.

But the URA's move did not sit well with all.

"The URA should not have a blind ban of all eateries because it will cause the variety of food stalls available to decrease," said Mr Jeremy Han, 24, owner and chef of The Burning Oak at Bedok Marketplace. "It may need to consider the cuisine and nature of the business before saying no to them."

Meanwhile, when The Sunday Times visited the Upper Thomson Road area on Friday around 8pm, it was a hive of activity, with eateries such as Roti Prata House almost fully occupied. Parking spaces on both sides of the road were fully taken. This situation carries over to even the weekdays, said shop owners.

The URA has banned additional eateries from opening in shophouses in sections along Jalan Todak, Soo Chow Walk, Sin Ming Road and Shunfu Road, as well as Upper Thomson Road.

There are already some 30 eateries in Thomson Village. Owners of businesses there said the lack of parking space has affected their business. Customers often complain about how hard it is to find parking spaces and say that, as a result, they dine elsewhere.

Mr John Chua, who owns Pasta J, said that the shortage of parking spaces along Upper Thomson Road is the "main obstacle" for his restaurant. Unlike other eateries which cater to the younger crowd, most of his customers drive to the area.

"We've had regulars who disappear for a while and when they come back, they say: 'It's the parking. I give up'," said Mr Chua, 46, whose restaurant opened more than two years ago.

"I think the ban will prevent the problem from getting worse but not really improve things."

Mr Alam Shah, director of Cafe Etc, said he decided to set up his restaurant in Upper Thomson as the area is known for good food and can draw in crowds. But parking for customers is now a question of luck.

Some eateries have tried to come up with solutions.

Big Eater seafood, which opened in Jalan Pari Burong eight years ago, has been offering free valet services since. Its manager, Mr Y.K. Sim, 40, said: "We did it for customers' convenience so they don't have to wait in their cars for so long before they get to eat."

Additional reporting by Clarice Teo

Ban on new eateries ‘unlikely to fix parking woes’
By Melody Zaccheus, Carolyn Khew and Clarice Teo, The Sunday Times, 12 Jun 2016

The ban on new eateries in the Bedok and Upper Thomson areas is a welcome move, but it is unlikely to improve existing parking woes, say residents and customers.

Ms Gloria Tan, 28, a childcare teacher, who visits Simpang Bedok a few times a month as she likes the wide variety of cuisine available, said that while the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) ban will help, she hopes more parking spaces will be built there.

"The banning of new eateries is a partial solution to the problem because there are only that many carpark spaces in Simpang Bedok," she said.

Mr M. H. Ng, 46, a manufacturing manager who lives in Jalan Pari Burong, makes sure he gets home by around 5pm to secure a parking space. "I avoid getting home around dinner time because you will not be able to find any parking."

Business analyst Edris Dzulkifli, 28, who has been living in the Simpang Bedok area for about 20 years, said it is sometimes hard to find parking space outside his house. "It's a minor inconvenience that comes with the modernisation of the place. The area is now more trendy, hip and experimental, with a greater range of food offerings."

He had been hoping that developers or the authorities would construct a multi-storey carpark at the recently opened East Village. "That could have alleviated the overcrowded situation here. Instead, they built an open-air carpark, which is a waste."

Housewife Erica Chew, 28, who lives in Jalan Chempaka Kuning, simply opts to walk instead of drive when she wants to eat in her neighbourhood so as to avoid the hassle of finding parking space.

Other residents, such as Ms Patricia Tan, 49, who works in administration and also lives in Jalan Chempaka Kuning, were relieved by the move to ban new eateries, saying the area already has enough food places.

Ms Tan hopes the URA's move will at least ensure the noise levels and parking woes in the area do not worsen, especially at night.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times understands that the Land Transport Authority has stepped up enforcement on illegal parking in some of the areas.

Thomson Village patron and resident Tan Yee San, 33, believes the authorities should give more thought to how the area is designed. He usually takes around 15 minutes to find a parking space and tries not to drive to the area if he can help it.

"The popular eateries are still here, so people will come. Building more carpark spaces would help," said the mechanic, who has been living in the area for four years.

But another patron, who gave his name only as Mr Low, said parking has not been much of an issue for him. The 42-year-old director of a non-profit organisation said he usually parks in Jalan Lembah Thomson, which is further up from the main stretch of eateries.

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