Steamboat outlet faces closure for repeatedly obstructing walkway

After getting fined at least 38 times over the last three years, Madam Anita Wang has now been given an ultimatum.

If she continues to put tables and chairs along the public walkway in front of her Tian Tian steamboat restaurant at the 101 building along Beach Road, she will have to bring the shutters down, permanently.

At least two other steamboat restaurants along nearby Liang Seah Street have also been fined multiple times.

But the restaurants' owners say that they continued to flout the rules because it was the only way to keep business afloat.

"I thought that they would let me continue operating as long as I paid the fines," said Madam Wang, who has coughed up to the Land Transport Authority about $20,000 in fines.

Last month, she received the final warning from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the URA said that Madam Wang has been operating "unauthorised outdoor refreshment areas (ORAs)" on the public walkway since 2009, which she is prohibited from doing.

A spokesman said the agency had received "numerous complaints" that the outdoor dining area set up by Madam Wang was obstructing pedestrian flow, "causing noise disturbance, public hygiene problems and general disamenities to the public".

The authorities had repeatedly taken "several enforcement actions... including seizing tables and chairs on the walkways on a few occasions".

"However, the operator simply reinstated the unauthorised ORAs with new tables and chairs," said the URA spokesman.

Madam Wang, who did not want to provide her age, claims that business has fallen by more than half since the last warning from the URA and she may shut down in the next four months.

With her outdoor arrangement, she was able to serve about 30 tables. Now she can use only the 12 tables within her unit.

Madam Wang, who has been operating at Beach Road for the last five years, said that she had "no choice" but to extend her restaurant farther out on to the public walkway, due to a partition erected in front of her unit by the management council of her building about two years ago.

"I know I'm not supposed to even operate in the area immediately outside my shop, but maybe it wouldn't have been so bad," she said.

The spokesman for the management council said : "The responsibility lies with the landlord to make sure that their tenants know the rules."

Madam Wang's only gripe now is why other restaurants along her street are still operating outdoor dining areas.

A waiter at a nearby steamboat restaurant said: "If we can't operate outside, it's the end for us, which is why we continue putting the tables even after being fined."

When The Straits Times visited on Thursday night, this other restaurant had customers seated right alongside the road.

The URA spokesman said that it takes into consideration "on-site situations, other agencies' requirements and public feedback when dealing with outdoor refreshment areas".

"When there is a planning condition prohibiting outdoor dining and the outdoor refreshment areas become excessive and causes public nuisance, or obstruction to the users in the area, URA will take appropriate action."

STACEY CHIA