Year-end Orchard Road busking curbs: Crowd control measures necessary to ensure safety, say police

Crowds form in Orchard Road during Christmas celebrations in 2019. PHOTO: SPF

SINGAPORE – Very large crowds are expected in Orchard Road during the year-end festive celebrations and public safety cannot be taken for granted, the police said on Saturday.

In the light of this, the police said they have recommended to the National Arts Council (NAC) that it restrict busking activities at selected locations when crowds peak.

“The Korean Itaewon incident is a reminder that public safety cannot be taken for granted,” police told The Straits Times.

“Appropriate crowd control measures must be put in place. We must not compromise on public safety, and we hope for the understanding and cooperation of all stakeholders participating in, or involved in the organisation of, the year-end festivities.”

A deadly Halloween crush on Oct 29 in Seoul’s clubbing district Itaewon claimed the lives of more than 150 revellers.

Buskers expressed their dismay after they were told by the NAC that they would not be allowed to perform outside seven Orchard Road malls on selected dates in December, including Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The busking ban will apply from 7pm to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays outside these malls: Ion Orchard, Wisma Atria, Ngee Ann City, The Heeren, 313@Somerset, Knightsbridge and Mandarin Gallery.

Citing public safety concerns and advisories from relevant agencies, the NAC said in a Nov 14 e-mail sent to a busker and seen by ST: “As we approach the year-end festivities, there is anticipation of larger crowds around Orchard Road, especially on the dates leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”

Security experts ST approached said concerns over public safety amid large crowds could have risen in the aftermath of the Itaewon tragedy.

Singapore University of Technology and Design Assistant Professor Jeffrey Chan said the tragedy in South Korea, as well as an expected higher number of shoppers due to relaxed Covid-19 measures, could have led to the increased emphasis on public safety.

He noted that in Orchard Road, slopes and passageways connecting malls can become bottlenecks when footfall is high. 

“The public should increase their awareness of these risk factors and then make responsible decisions for themselves. It really takes all parties to make responsible decisions for a safe and dense urban environment like ours,” he said.

Crowds form in Orchard Road during Christmas celebrations in 2019. PHOTO: SPF

Mr John Vijayan Vasavan, the immediate past president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies, said: “(The authorities) have to think of every possible scenario that can occur. Someone can accidentally fall. A brawl may break out if people are jostling. If the weather worsens, everyone would scramble for shelter.”

Added Mr Vasavan, who is the director of Weavepact Security Services: “If an accident happens, that can dampen the celebrations during the festive period.”

The Buskers’ Association said buskers add to the festive atmosphere along Singapore’s prime shopping belt.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Thursday, the association said it was disheartened by the ban and called on the NAC, which oversees the licensing of buskers in Singapore, to reverse its decision.

The association said it has always worked with the security management of Orchard Road malls to ensure a safe distance between performers and the audience during periods of higher human traffic.

The ban would likely hurt buskers as they rely significantly on earnings from the increased footfall in December, the association added. 

Mr Jeremy Han, 33, who busks twice a week in Orchard Road, said that before Covid-19, he was able to earn up to $10,000 in December as shoppers were more willing to spend during the festive season.

The wedding singer said: “I don’t think a ban is fair, given how we were not consulted and did not have an opportunity to provide feedback before it was announced.

“But I understand why the authorities are considering implementing safety precautions. Perhaps they can cordon off the performance area instead so that passers-by will not crowd around if they see that it is already full.”

People around the Christmas decorations at Wisma Atria along Orchard Road on Nov 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The police said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, Orchard Road would be very crowded with Christmas display pieces and pop-up booths.

“The presence of buskers and ice-cream sellers caused pedestrians to stop and crowd around those points, which further reduced the passable space on the footpaths and further impeded the flow of people,” said the police.

This year, the police said barricades and officers will be deployed and public notifications will be sent when certain areas are closed off to prevent overcrowding.

On recent weekends, crowds in Orchard Road have been considerably heavier, and the police said: “(We) are working with the Orchard Road Business Association to put in more crowd control measures along the entire stretch of Orchard Road to keep Singaporean and foreign visitors safe.

“We are grateful that NAC appreciated these crowd concerns and worked with us.

“The police and NAC will be engaging affected stakeholders.”

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