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Waterloo Street revamp: Vendors say size, location of new lots their main concern

Waterloo Street revamp: Vendors say size, location of new lots their main concern

Makeshift flower vendors line the streets outside Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Waterloo Street in the afternoon on Monday, Dec 7 (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: It's not the cost of each lot; it's the size - and it could be bigger, stallholders along Waterloo Street said after the authorities announced on Tuesday (Dec 8) plans to move vendors to designated spots along a popular pedestrian walkway next year.

From Jan 4, 2021, vendors along the Waterloo Mall stretch will have to ballot for one of 41 allocated spots as authorities try to mitigate health and fire hazards along the busy pathway.

For a 3 sq m lot, vendors will have to pay S$48.15 every month for a three-year temporary occupation licence. Every vendor will also be issued a new umbrella 2.2m wide.

Currently, they do not pay any fees and they choose where they want to set up shop. 

READ: Waterloo street vendors must pay rent for designated spaces from next year

“This is a street enhancement exercise to allow for a more pleasant walking experience for people who visit the Waterloo Mall such as the temples’ devotees and the residents living there, and to improve public health and safety,” said Ms Thong Wai Lin, the assistant chief executive of the Singapore Land Authority, the government agency overseeing this project. 

From his roughly three-metre wide tarp-covered spot, scaffolded by three umbrellas, Mr Lee Tai Chin, a cobbler along the street for the past 16 years, said one umbrella would not be enough when it rains.

Lee Tai Chin, a cobbler along Waterloo Street for the past 16 years, said that having just one umbrella will make it difficult to work when it rains. He currently uses three and a tarp. (Photo: Rachel Phua)

“If there’s a storm and the wind comes, I have to stop work because all my things will be flying around,” the 78-year-old said in Mandarin.

Fortune teller Johny Seah agreed. How would one umbrella provide enough cover for himself and a customer, he asked in Mandarin. He had asked for an extra brolly but his request was rejected, he said. He currently uses four.

Mr Seah added that it would be troublesome to move, and he disliked the fact that he could not choose his next location.

“But there’s no choice. What the Government says, we have to follow,” he said. 

But Ms Catherine Teo, who sells flowers outside Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, said vendors like her should not be too greedy.  

The Government could have disallowed them from operating, but instead chose to tidy up the place and charge them a nominal fee every month, the 65-year-old said in Mandarin. She has been in this trade for 60 years, having helped out her grandmother and mother as a child.

Catherine Teo, who has been selling flowers to temple devotees along Waterloo Street since she was a child, said the new move could help to reduce clashes between stallholders fighting for space along the stretch. (Photo: Rachel Phua)

When the tourists return, it would be a much more pleasant experience for vendors as well, she said. 

Speaking in Mandarin, she said: “At least things will be stable. Right now, sometimes there are small conflicts with other vendors over the space we occupy. Even if we earned money, we wouldn’t be happy.”

“Next time, it will be smaller but at least we won’t fight, and we can still sell our things,” she said. 

The downside, she said, is the lottery-like system in getting a space. “It will depend on your luck. If you get a good one, you will be happier. You get a bad one, you sell fewer flowers.” 

Residents in the area said while they were glad the authorities are sprucing the street up, they did not want the revamp to affect the vendors’ livelihoods.

Mdm Mei Pei Ling, 50, who has lived in a flat along the stretch since 1984, said over the years, the place had become messier. Vendors would leave their items at the same spot overnight instead of packing them up and moving them to the side.

She said she was afraid items like trolleys and cardboard boxes would catch fire one day, or become a home for rodents. 

But some of the vendors are her neighbours, and she hoped the shift would not affect their earnings.

Mr Ronnie Ma, 50, who has lived in Bras Basah for more than 40 years, said residents started complaining as far back as five or six years ago.

They were also afraid the unattended stalls would become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, said Mr Ma, who has been the Kampong Glam Citizens’ Consultative Committee chairman for at least six years.

When COVID-19 started to spread, he advised the vendors to be a little more cautious and practise safe distancing, he said.

“But it’s difficult,” he said, as stallholders liked the spot they were in and were afraid that business would be affected if they changed locations.

Talks between the committee and the Government about the congestion began about two years ago, he said. Committee members told authorities they wanted the place to be tidied up, but wanted to make sure that the vendors could continue to ply their trade. When the pandemic happened, the situation became more urgent.

“It’s a matter of really making sure that everybody’s interests are being protected and seeing how best we can come up with a solution to address everybody’s concerns,” Mr Ma said.

Source: CNA/rp(ac)

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