URA ban on new eateries in Bedok and Upper Thomson: Food is a fantasy but parking is a nightmare

Owners see URA move as only reining in severe parking problem

The carpark at Simpang Bedok was full at dinner time last night, with cars circling repeatedly as customers hunted for a parking space.
The carpark at Simpang Bedok was full at dinner time last night, with cars circling repeatedly as customers hunted for a parking space. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

More than a decade ago, the area around Bedok Road was nowhere near as hip. It was home to a handful of hardware shops and a few eateries offering traditional Malay and Indian Muslim dishes, say residents and shopkeepers there.

Today, it has surged in popularity among young diners and families as it offers a much wider range of food, including fusion fare.

But fame has a price - traffic congestion becomes a nightmare during dining hours on weekends.

To prevent the situation from getting worse, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) two weeks ago placed the area, along with Thomson Village and Little India, on a list of spots where new eateries have been banned from setting up.

The URA said this was "to address the traffic and indiscriminate parking concerns from the residents there due to the existing eating houses in the area".

At Simpang Bedok, there are halal stalls, such as Spize which offers Western and Mediterranean food, and Tang Tea House which sells dim sum. Bedok Marketplace, which re-opened in late 2014, is filled with hipster-type stalls selling a variety of food, from Vietnamese cuisine to meat-centric grills.

Across the road sits East Village which sprang up about two years ago. There are about 20 food-and-beverage options there.

Just three minutes away is the Jalan Pari Burong stretch which has about seven eateries. Customers said they are drawn to the area because of the food choices available.

Mr Jason Ning, 43, who runs Momoya Japanese Restaurant and Thai Table in Jalan Pari Burong, said he moved to the area about six years ago. The draw? Free parking around the area which he thought would be attractive to customers.

Now "everyone is fighting for space", he said.

Diners start streaming in around 6pm. Most parking spaces were filled by nightfall when The Sunday Times visited over three nights.

Spize restaurant stall assistant Ayu Samaei, 37, said the open-air carpark in Simpang Bedok is at its most crowded around 8pm. "Our customers tell us that they have a hard time finding parking."

It gets even more chaotic during special occasions like Mother's Day, shop owners said.

But the URA's move did not sit well with all.

"The URA should not have a blind ban of all eateries because it will cause the variety of food stalls available to decrease," said Mr Jeremy Han, 24, owner and chef of The Burning Oak at Bedok Marketplace. "It may need to consider the cuisine and nature of the business before saying no to them."

Meanwhile, when The Sunday Times visited the Upper Thomson Road area on Friday around 8pm, it was a hive of activity, with eateries such as Roti Prata House almost fully occupied. Parking spaces on both sides of the road were fully taken. This situation carries over to even the weekdays, said shop owners.

The URA has banned additional eateries from opening in shophouses in sections along Jalan Todak, Soo Chow Walk, Sin Ming Road and Shunfu Road, as well as Upper Thomson Road.

There are already some 30 eateries in Thomson Village. Owners of businesses there said the lack of parking space has affected their business. Customers often complain about how hard it is to find parking spaces and say that, as a result, they dine elsewhere.

Mr John Chua, who owns Pasta J, said that the shortage of parking spaces along Upper Thomson Road is the "main obstacle" for his restaurant. Unlike other eateries which cater to the younger crowd, most of his customers drive to the area.

"We've had regulars who disappear for a while and when they come back, they say: 'It's the parking. I give up'," said Mr Chua, 46, whose restaurant opened more than two years ago.

"I think the ban will prevent the problem from getting worse but not really improve things."

Mr Alam Shah, director of Cafe Etc, said he decided to set up his restaurant in Upper Thomson as the area is known for good food and can draw in crowds. But parking for customers is now a question of luck.

Some eateries have tried to come up with solutions.

Big Eater seafood, which opened in Jalan Pari Burong eight years ago, has been offering free valet services since. Its manager, Mr Y.K. Sim, 40, said: "We did it for customers' convenience so they don't have to wait in their cars for so long before they get to eat."

•Additional reporting by Clarice Teo

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline URA ban on new eateries in Bedok and Upper Thomson: Food is a fantasy but parking is a nightmare. Subscribe