Toning down drunken nights

SINGAPORE - Residents kept awake by noisy drunkards at void decks and other public areas may soon sleep easier. Tighter controls on public drinking and the sale of alcohol are being considered.

The Government is looking into designating some public spots as no-alcohol zones, as well as shortening the retail-sale hours for booze.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and government feedback unit Reach launched a month-long public consultation yesterday to canvass views on several measures.

One is to make common areas within all neighbourhoods in Singapore - for example, void decks, playgrounds and areas near MRT stations - permanent no-alcohol zones. Another is to designate only frequent hangouts for drinkers, like the bridges along the Singapore River where youth typically congregate and drink, as temporary no-booze zones. This way, enforcement officers will be empowered to evict drinkers from such areas. The bans can be lifted when the situation at such hot spots improves.

MHA also proposed shorter sale hours for liquor at retail outlets at such zones to "reduce the availability of cheap alcohol to drinkers in the late night".

Sale hours could be cut across the board for all outlets - like supermarkets - selling booze for off-site consumption, or only for stores in problem areas. The public can also consider if cut-off times should be uniform or varied across the island.

Currently, stores in residential estates like Ang Mo Kio or commercial areas like Orchard can apply to sell alcohol round the clock.

Shops in mixed commercial and residential zones like Tanjong Pagar may be allowed to sell booze only between 6am and 3am the next day on weekdays, or from 6am till 4am the next day on weekends.

The proposed changes, said MHA in a press release yesterday, came after feedback from some Members of Parliament and residents living near congregation hot spots, such as Robertson Quay and Little India, who raised concerns that "drinking problems, exacerbated by the availability of cheap liquor...are posing safety issues and disamenities to the community as drinkers become intoxicated in the night".

The ministry added that excessive liquor consumption could give rise to disorderly behaviour, fights, noise and littering. The measures aim to curb intoxication and protect the general public, particularly residents, it said.

Selegie resident Gu Feng Hui, 23, said that the police have been called in several times in the area. "Shortening the time won't be effective. Most of them buy their drinks way earlier, from what I have observed," said the writer.

Madam Law Lui, 67, a Little India resident, said it is "not uncommon to see people sprawled out on the grass close to the HDB flats". She added: "Come here on any weekend and you will see groups of people, often foreign workers, drinking. They can be quite noisy. Fights have broken out."

The owner of a convenience store in the area that sells alcohol said that he sells booze until midnight. Most of his customers, he said, come in after 10pm.

"Sales might be affected if a 10pm restriction is placed," he said.

No-alcohol zones are present in places like Britain and the United States. In Australia, stores in certain states are allowed to sell alcohol only up to 10pm.

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