Orchard Road blueprint to guide development over next 15 to 20 years: URA and STB

Plans to refresh Orchard Road's streetscape were announced earlier this year, including a notable idea to make the area a car-free zone in the long term.
Plans to refresh Orchard Road's streetscape were announced earlier this year, including a notable idea to make the area a car-free zone in the long term.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Orchard Road will no longer be the same in 15 to 20 years.

The authorities are looking into implementing an "actionable Orchard Road Blueprint" within that period, said a joint statement from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Thursday (Dec 14).

To that end, both agencies are conducting a six-month study into the prime retail and office district, a spokesman for the two agencies said in response to queries about a public tender launched on Monday.

It called for proposals for a business study on Orchard Road, with an optional component of assessing up to "four strategies" for the area. The statement did not elaborate what these were.

Said the spokesman: "The goal (of the study) is to strengthen Orchard Road's positioning, offerings and visitor experience. This is part of the ongoing effort to study how Orchard Road can be developed into a vibrant lifestyle destination where Singaporeans and visitors alike can enjoy a signature street experience in a city garden."

The findings and recommendations from the study will be incorporated into the blueprint meant to guide the development of Orchard Road over the next two decades.

Said the spokesman: "This blueprint will be shared for public feedback once ready."

Plans to refresh Orchard Road's streetscape were announced earlier this year, including a notable idea to make the area a car-free zone in the long term.

The agencies have worked with stakeholders on some "immediate term initiatives", including the use of the Grange Road open-air carpark for a creative pop-up event, the statement said.

The ongoing Flashbang street market, which ends on Dec 30, features some 120 retailers and food and beverage operators.

The statement said Orchard Road also features enhanced programming and events, including a Christmas village at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza as part of this year's Christmas on A Great Street.

A scramble crossing trial at the junction of Cairnhill and Orchard Roads, similar to that in Tokyo's Shibuya district, will "facilitate access to enhanced programming and enhance street-level vibrancy", it added.

The trial will take place on weekends and public holidays from Dec 16 until Jan 28.

By the end of 2018, a design incubator to showcase and groom local brands and designers will be built at Orchard Green as well.

The JTC Corporation will be calling for proposals by the first quarter of next year for an operator to manage the incubation space.

Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) executive director Steven Goh said that the association and stakeholders had been involved in "a series of engagements leading to this study of the rejuvenation of Orchard Road".

Improving the walkability of Orchard Road and relaxing zoning restrictions are among the suggestions that Orba has provided during these closed-door sessions, said Mr Goh.

"We are excited that the Government is engaging consultants to undertake this blueprint. We will work closely with URA and STB to see what else they need from us," he added.

Orba is "happy with the progress" of the remaking of Orchard Road, first announced by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran in April.

"Human traffic is extremely high this year, a sign that people are returning to Orchard to shop while tourists are being drawn by the festivities," said Mr Goh.

If the scramble crossing trial is successful, Orba hopes the authorities can implement others at the Orchard Road intersections with Bideford and Paterson Roads as well, said Mr Goh.

The blueprint is a significant one with long-term consequences, said Adjunct Associate Professor Steven Choo from the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment.

He said that 20 years is a relatively short period for urban planners.

Said Dr Choo, who gives lectures on urban planning: "Changes happen as an evolution and not overnight - you cannot impose a mindset or pattern over a few years. Few remember that the first development plans for Orchard Road surfaced in 1968, but it took years to become reality."

While still a major commercial belt, Orchard Road has come under siege in recent times with the growth of e-commerce, according to industry watchers.

Upcoming regional districts and commercial nodes, such as Jurong, can also pose a threat to its status.

This is why Orchard Road still needs to find a "unique selling point" to lure shoppers and tourists back to the street, said Dr Choo.