Restaurant appeals against restrictions on opening hours

SINGAPORE - The owner of a 24-hour restaurant in Sembawang Road is appealing against new restrictions on his opening hours, which were imposed following a flood of complaints from residents.

When its licence is renewed in April next year, A&A Restaurant will have to close by 10.30pm each night and open at 6am or later. Two other restaurants nearby face similar restrictions.

Residents have complained about noise levels, littering and parking woes.

This is the first time that such restrictions have been placed on 24-hour restaurants by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

But it is hardly an isolated case, say observers, given the growing number of 24-hour establishments which have sprung up in recent years.

The 70-seater A&A restaurant - which serves Indian Muslim food - faces a condominium, Euphony Gardens, and there are private houses behind it. Many residents had contacted the NEA, MP Lee Bee Wah who oversees the area, and other authorities to voice their concerns.

Ms Lee said one complaint is received every other day, on average. She told The Straits Times: "Eateries can move elsewhere, but you cannot ask the residents to uproot - it is their home, and home is where you come back to have a good rest."

But restaurant owner Osman Hamzah, 37, is appealing to the NEA to reverse its decision. He predicts the new hours could mean a 40 per cent drop in business. "The night is our golden time for business, because customers come to relax after work," he said.

Two other restaurants in the vicinity share the same fate. Azya Restaurant and Beancurd City, both in Sembawang Road, will also have to close at 10.30pm when their licences are up for renewal in April and May.

The owner of the five-year-old Beancurd City, Mr David Koh, 43, who lives in Marine Parade, said that he would try approaching his MP, Mr Goh Chok Tong, for help. His shop currently opens from 4pm to 2am.

The NEA said imposing restrictions on the opening hours of restaurants is a last resort and is done on a case-by-case basis after exhausting all other options.

The agency and the Land Transport Authority had monitored the situation for over a year, and consulted grassroots leaders and the MP, before deciding to do so.

For A&A, they found that besides the noise generated, there was also a "serious illegal parking problem involving the patrons from the restaurant", said the NEA.

A new carpark was built in front of A&A, but it did not solve the problem.

Residents in the area welcomed the restrictions on opening hours.

"Even though the shop owners cannot be blamed, it is their customers who aggravate the problem," said Mr Puru Ramoo, the technical director of an oil and gas company.

The 61-year-old faces problems when he steers his car out of his driveway, as there are often cars illegally parked in the road. He said: "I would have to do a 20-point turn to steer my car out, to avoid striking the curb."

Another resident, who wanted to be known as Mr Tan, said he had to pick litter such as plastic bottles and tissue from the front of his house each morning.

Other 24-hour establishments say they try to find ways to ease the inconvenience residents have to put up with.

Mr Hong Poh Hin, chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, said a possible precaution could be to close the outdoor refreshment area of coffee shops after midnight.

About 30 per cent of some 450 coffee shops the association represents are open for business round-the-clock. This number has increased by about 5 per cent each year for the past three years.

Mr Hong is worried about the latest move by NEA. "This may set a precedent for restricting hours and business based on the authorities taking residents' feedback."

He said: "Nowadays, people work till late. If you close early, they will not come at all."

This article was first published on December 30, 2011.
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