Busking ban eased, buskers allowed at four Orchard Road locations

A busker performing in Orchard Road in February 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Buskers will be allowed to perform at four sites in Orchard Road, the police said on Tuesday.

They are The Heeren, 313@Somerset, Knightsbridge and Mandarin Gallery. 

These locations were initially among seven places buskers were told they could not perform at due to public safety concerns following the Halloween crush on Oct 29 in Seoul’s Itaewon clubbing district. More than 150 revellers died.

Buskers can perform at the four locations every day in December between 10am and 10pm. However, on Christmas Eve, they can busk only from 10am to 7pm there.

Restrictions were eased after an engagement session was held on Tuesday between the National Arts Council (NAC), the police and members of the busking community.

Earlier this month, buskers were told they were not allowed to perform outside seven Orchard Road malls on Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm to 10pm in December due to public safety concerns.

The police had earlier said the Itaewon incident was a reminder that public safety cannot be taken for granted.

On Tuesday, the police stressed again that especially on Christmas Eve, the Orchard Road area is expected to be extremely crowded. 

The police said: “As it is, even without busking, the police are very concerned about the situation there on Christmas Eve, and are working with stakeholders on various measures.”

They noted how given the unique terrain features in Orchard Road and limited access points in and out of the area, impeded crowd flows will increase the risk of a crowd crush or stampede. 

The police added: “(This is) especially if the crowd becomes agitated or alarmed, and people rush for the exits, whether due to a real emergency or otherwise.”

The presence of buskers will cause pedestrians to stop and crowd around an already crowded footpath, further reducing passable space and impeding crowd flow, the police said.

Busking will remain prohibited outside Ion Orchard, Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City after 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays between Dec 9 and 31.

NAC, which oversees the licensing of buskers, added that busking will be paused at certain points if crowds are assessed to pose a significant risk to the public. 

In an update on its website on Tuesday, the NAC said: “It is important for the busking community, venue partners, authorities, and various stakeholders to continue working together to bring vibrancy to the streets of Singapore in a safe manner.”

Buskers must ballot for a slot at the four Orchard Road locations. Applications will open from Nov 30 till Dec 2.

Mr Bryan Wong, 26, a full-time circus busker, said: “I’m glad we were able to voice our concerns and I appreciate that the authorities have heard us out.

“Although every busker would prefer that Ion Orchard and Wisma Atria were made available during the three hours between 7pm and 10pm when we earn the most, this is a step forward.” 

Mr Wong, who declined to say how much he earns from busking, noted the two malls are prime locations because of the steps outside which draw crowds. 

However, he acknowledged the area can also be easily congested during Christmas, with pop-up booths nearby from the Great Christmas Village event organised by the Orchard Road Business Association.

On Tuesday, the police announced that busking restrictions will also apply to five locations in Marina Bay from 7pm on New Year’s Eve. 

Busking can continue without restrictions at other sites such as Empress Place and Esplanade Park.

The police said with the return of the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown this year, which includes fireworks, much larger crowds are expected around Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve.

They added: “As part of crowd management measures, open spaces will be closed when the crowds reach a certain level, to prevent an overcrowding situation.”

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