Is Geylang losing its flavour?

Is Geylang losing its flavour?
People eating and drinking at Geylang where it is well-known for its food and other less savoury activities.

SINGAPORE -Geylang was unceremoniously thrust into the spotlight during the Little India riot inquiry last year.

It was described by former Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee as a potential powder keg, with unsavoury characters abound, "a hint of lawlessness" and hostility against the police.

Since then, the area has been hit by a slew of measures.

Enforcement raids against illegal immigrants, vice workers and contraband sellers have been stepped up.

There are frequent enforcement raids, along with police raids every month, say those who work in the area.

There have also been two measures to turn off the alcohol taps in Geylang.

Over the last nine months, some 40 coffee shops in the area have lost their liquor licences as they had infringed various regulations, the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association told The New Paper.

There were initially 96 coffee shops in the area with beer licences.

Then on Jan 19, the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill was tabled in Parliament, with Geylang one of the areas targeted by the Bill.

While specific details have not been released, part of the Bill suggests no drinking in public places after 10.30pm. Alcohol sales at take- away shops would also be stopped at that time.

Separately, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has proposed to rezone the heart of the red-light district such that no new residential premises can be built there.

The URA said this was to "rebalance and moderate" the mix of properties in the area. The diverse mix of shophouses, eateries, freehold properties and even brothels have led to increasing "friction on the ground".

But what does this mean for the colourful area, well known in equal parts for its food as well as for other less savoury activities?

Member of Parliament Edwin Tong, who oversees part of Geylang, sought to reassure both residents and retailers.

He told TNP that while retailers have expressed concern, especially with the looming increased alcohol restrictions, residents welcome the new measures that will reduce ill behaviour in the area.

"I can understand the anxiety of the impending alcohol control laws, but they are not meant to prohibit drinking. It's just to cut down on unruly drinking," said Mr Tong, who often sees drinkers spilling over onto roads from the coffee shops, which can be a safety concern.

WAIT AND SEE

As for many of the coffee shop owners, they are taking a wait-and-see approach, said Mr Hong Poh Hin, vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, which represents more than 400 coffee shop owners in Singapore.

Many of those whose liquor licences were revoked had been caught violating rules, such as having customers still consuming alcohol on their premises in the wee hours despite a midnight cut-off time. And some others were caught selling liquor past their licensed timings.

"When you ask customers to stop drinking and leave, they get angry with the employees and a fight breaks out. But if you let them continue with their drinks, you get fined. So it can be quite difficult for the coffee shops," he said.

Mr Hong added that most coffee shops would stop selling beer at midnight but would allow patrons to stay on and finish their beers.

But the increased enforcement raids have meant that many of them were caught flouting the rules just for letting customers stay on past midnight.

Mr Hong said: "I think as long as the new laws don't shorten the on-premise drinking hours on our licences, we should still be okay."

On the property side, things may be looking up for Geylang, said Mr Colin Tan, Suntec Real Estate Consultants' director of research and consultancy.

When there are fewer residential properties in the area, people are less likely to complain about noise and bad traffic, which can affect business operations.

At the same time, it pushes up the prices of existing homes due to its limited supply.

"Geylang is a very central area and people certainly will be willing to pay more for the convenience," he said.

And historically, it seems unlikely that the new restrictions would do much to alter the face of Geylang either, said heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim, 50.

"Over the years, while there have been changes, Geylang always returns to being the same vibrant area that it is," he said.

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