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Waterloo Street vendors not worried about paying rent, but some say allotted space may be too small

SINGAPORE — Vendors along a stretch of Waterloo Street said that they are concerned about the limited space they will be allotted under a new initiative announced by the authorities on Tuesday (Dec 8). The move was to address public health risks on the busy pedestrian walkway during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Catherine Teo, 65, said she has been selling flowers and joss sticks outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street since she was five years old.

Ms Catherine Teo, 65, said she has been selling flowers and joss sticks outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street since she was five years old.

  • Vendors will have to pay a monthly rent and ballot for designated 3 sq m lots
  • Some vendors are worried the lots might be too small
  • But trade-offs have to be made given the circumstances, said Member of Parliament Denise Phua
  • Residents say the area has become messier over the years and are worried about mosquito breeding

 

SINGAPORE — Vendors along a stretch of Waterloo Street said that they are concerned about the limited space they will be allotted under a new initiative announced by the authorities on Tuesday (Dec 8). The move was to address public health risks on the busy pedestrian walkway during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 41 vendors in the area near the popular Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, including flower sellers, fortune-tellers, reflexologists and a cobbler, will have to ballot for a lot on Dec 14.

The vendors will take up their allotted places from Jan 4. They will be charged S$48.15 in monthly rent for a 1.5m-by-2m lot, though this will be charged only from June next year.

Many vendors interviewed by TODAY said that they are not concerned about the introduction of rental fees. Their main worry is not having enough space to shelter against the rain because many of their makeshift shelters are larger than what can be fitted into that space.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said on Tuesday that the reason for the change is that the area had become congested over the years with numerous stalls packed together.

Discarded boxes along the street also pose a potential fire hazard and obstruct pathways.

Each of the street vendors will be issued with a new umbrella 2.2m in diameter, but some of the vendors told TODAY that it might not be wide enough to shield themselves and their customers from the rain.

VENDORS WANT MORE SPACE

After 16 years working on the street, cobbler Lee Tai Chin has fashioned a semi-permanent tent for himself using three umbrellas and a tarpaulin sheet held together by a scaffolding of bamboo poles and cable ties.

“I do handiwork and it sometimes takes one to two hours to repair a shoe,” Mr Lee, 78, said in Mandarin. “So I need proper shelter, otherwise how do I do business when it rains?”

Cobbler Lee Tai Chin (right) has worked on Waterloo Street for 16 years, and has fashioned a semi-permanent tent using three umbrellas and a tarpaulin sheet held together by bamboo scaffolding and cable ties. Photo: Daryl Choo/TODAY

Responding to TODAY’s queries, a spokesperson from SLA said that the vendors will be allowed to continue using tarpaulin sheets to protect themselves from the rain within their allocated lots.

Fengshui master Alex Soh, 58, said that he is not concerned about the charges for rent, but the new allotted space may not be enough to fit the table he uses, which is already covered fully with fortune-telling instruments.

Fortune-teller Johny Seah, 73, who plies his trade from a makeshift shelter measuring roughly 2m by 2.5m, likewise said that he hopes the Government could extend the lot size.

The SLA spokesperson said, however, that the authority would not be able to do this given the limited space available and the need to ensure safe distancing between the vendors.

Ms Denise Phua, vice-chairman of Jalan Besar Town Council and mayor of Central Singapore District, said that some compromises have to be made to improve the environment, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, to keep visitors and older residents safe.

“The space is limited and it is understandable that every vendor would prefer a larger and more strategic spot that comes for free,” Ms Phua said. She is also Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency, and the temple area comes under the ward.

She added: “The agencies have assured me that they would do their best to look into and balance the needs of all the stakeholder groups including vendors, residents, temple managements, devotees and other local and foreign visitors.”

UNLIKELY TO MOVE

At the moment, the vendors do not pay any fees for their space although the flower sellers pay S$120 a year for a street hawking licence from the Singapore Food Agency.

Mr Seah, who had reservations about the lack of space, said that he will most likely stay put despite the new rules. “I’m an old man, I need to make a living.”

He lives alone in a one-room flat and said that he used to earn about S$1,000 to S$2,000 a month, but since the pandemic, he sometimes struggles to earn S$10 a day.

Fortune-teller Johny Seah, 73, who plies his trade from a makeshift shelter about 2m by 2.5m, hopes that the Government will increase the lot size given to vendors. Photo: Daryl Choo/TODAY

Some vendors are grateful to have the space for a relatively low rental.

Ms Catherine Teo, 65, who has been selling flowers and joss sticks outside the temple since she was five years old, said that the Government is already being generous with the rental fees.

“In this day and age, where else can you find a rental stall for S$50?”

With more than 10 flower vendors crowding the temple entrance, it is understandable that the authorities had to restrict the lot spaces for the vendors, she said.

“At least they are allowing us to continue making a living,” she added. Ms Teo, who used to earn S$2,000 a month, has had her earnings cut by half since the pandemic.

To help the street vendors through the Covid-19 crisis, SLA said that it will start collecting the licensing fee only from June 1 next year. Vendors who face financial difficulties can approach the agency for help.

MESSIER OVER THE YEARS

Over the years, there have been complaints over how crowded the place has become. Residents have also raised concerns over possible mosquito breeding in the pails and boxes of supplies left behind by the vendors.

Ms YL Ting, who has lived in a flat along the stretch for 37 years, said that the mess had become worse in recent years with more stalls springing up there.

“The walkway became very narrow. For those who are wheelchair-bound, it's quite difficult for them to move about especially on temple (festival) days when it is crowded,” the 60-year-old freelance accountant said.

Mr Ronnie Ma, 50, chairman of the Kampong Glam Citizens’ Consultative Committee, has been receiving complaints from residents for many years. He has lived in nearby Bras Basah for more than 40 years.

“Of course, every year during the dengue season, there will be a fresh round of concerns. And with Covid-19, it’s worse because people are worried about safe distancing,” he said.

Retiree Chan Sing Yee, 70, who was queueing to enter the temple, similarly welcomed the move. Many foreigners visit the temple and the mess and touting by vendors is bad for Singapore’s image, he said.

“It’s good that they’re doing this now, before any accidents happen.” 

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