Major revamp of Orchard Road announced with new developments, different offerings in sub-precincts

SINGAPORE - Travelling from one end of Orchard Road to the other will eventually be a very different experience, as plans are afoot to transform the 2.4km stretch into a more lively street with different offerings in each of the four sub-precincts.

Part of the road may also go car-free to connect green spaces at the Istana Park, Dhoby Ghaut Green and the open space at Plaza Singapura and turn it into a garden oasis with a playground and sheltered events space.

These were among the proposed plans to rejuvenate Singapore's shopping belt unveiled by government agencies on Wednesday (Jan 30), following a six-month study and consultations with stakeholders.

In a joint statement, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board (NParks) said that new retail concepts, attractions, entertainment and events will be introduced to the Tanglin, Somerset, Orchard and Dhoby Ghaut sub-precincts to strengthen Orchard Road's position as a lifestyle destination.

The centre of Orchard Road will remain the retail core, with more mixed-use developments to be built on vacant parcels of state land along Orchard Boulevard.

Starting in April, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) will begin a year-long trial to bring activities such as retail and food and beverage pop-ups and arts and entertainment events to the pedestrian walkways along the street.

Side streets such as Killiney Road and Orchard Turn will also be enhanced for better connectivity, while elevated link bridges may be built to make it easier for visitors to cross the junctions of Orchard and Paterson Roads, the agencies said.

Dhoby Ghaut will be a green zone with family-friendly attractions such as outdoor playgrounds and sheltered event venues.

Tanglin will be branded a mixed-use neighbourhood with arts and artisanal choices, with the conserved Tudor Court for example used to house more arts and cultural offerings.

Somerset will strengthen its positioning as a youth hub with new lifestyle options and the possible transformation of the Grange Road open-air carpark into a dedicated events space, the agencies said.

To "bring back the Orchard", NParks is also looking to plant more trees and shrubs along Orchard Road, with a different colour palette for each sub-precinct.

"The planting programme is targeted to commence 2020 and will be implemented progressively," said NParks deputy director for design Jason Wright.

Rejuvenating Istana Park with themed gardens inspired by the botanical and horticultural traditions and practices seen throughout Singapore's history is another possibility, the statement added.

Plans to rejuvenate Orchard Road were first announced in 2017 by then Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran. These included using state land for pop-up concepts and events, the creation of a local retail showcase and making the street more pedestrian-friendly, with the possibility of going completely car-free in the long term.

Speaking on Wednesday (Jan 30) at the launch of Design Orchard, the realisation of the local retail and incubation space, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Orchard Road has come a long way from its days as a nutmeg and clove plantation, and must continue to be a place of innovation and evolution.

In the first half of 2018, about 9.2 million visitors arrived here, a 7.7 per cent increase from the same period in 2017. Tourist spending was $13.4 billion, the same as the first six months of 2017. While there were sharp drops for shopping (it accounted for $2.7 billion, a decrease of 15 per cent) and food and beverage ($1.2 billion and a 16 per cent decrease) in 2018, spending on sightseeing, entertainment and gaming grew by 2 per cent and amounted to $2.9 billion.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that new ideas are needed as Orchard Road is facing stiff competition from other cities, and has to adapt to rapidly changing retail trends.

But with the street forming a major thoroughfare in the central area that is highly built up on both sides, "any changes will take time and will require actions from both the Government and private sector", he said.

Australian urban planning consultancy Cistri, which conducted the $1.3 million study on Orchard Road last year and made recommendations for the shopping belt's long-term development, said that the proposals by the URA and STB build on the precinct's strengths.

Mr Jack Backen, director of property economics and research at the firm, told The Straits Times that "compared to the other great streets of the world, Orchard Road is very long with a particularly large retail component".

Broadening its focus beyond shopping will provide more reasons to visit, while creating more concentrated activity hubs and stretching the experience into the surrounding streets will help to create a multi-dimensional precinct, he said.

Mr Rahul Mittal, Cistri's director of planning and design, said long-term options for the continuing evolution of Orchard Road could include prioritising pedestrian spaces over vehicular usage.

On the ideas proposed by the agencies, Orba chairman Mark Shaw said that while the ideas are "pretty good", "some are very much conceptual; we would have preferred to see some bolder moves on URA and STB's part", such as introducing more surface-level pedestrian crossings.

Some of the ideas may also be difficult to implement, he said. These include ideas that would involve interaction between several building and mall owners.

"I think getting cooperation between the various landlords and mall owners, the stakeholders on the street, that's going to be the biggest challenge," he said.

A public exhibition on the future plans for Orchard Road will be held at Orchard Fountain Corner beside 313 @ Somerset for two weeks from Jan 30 to Feb 13 to gather feedback.

Details on the plans and a feedback channel will also be available at https://ura.sg/orchardrd until May 31.