Around eight decades of history seem set to come to an end for Sungei Road flea market.
As it has to make way for the Sungei Road MRT station, due to open in 2017, an association representing its 200 traders had suggested relocating to one of four alternative sites nearby.
However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has rejected this - and not given it any explanation. When asked, NEA referred The Straits Times to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which said the four sites have been zoned for parks and residential use under Master Plan 2014. They are next to Rochor River, at Kampong Bugis along Kallang River, behind Sim Lim Tower and a roadside near Jalan Kubor Malay cemetery.
The president of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, Mr Koh Ah Koon, 73, received a letter from the NEA informing him of the decision last week. He passed on the bad news to members at a meeting on Monday. "Shutting down the market will mean taking away a source of income for many elderly folk here," he said. "Most of us have little education or are illiterate."
It could push some peddlers back to the ways of the past when they squatted illegally, he warned. At least 70 per cent of them are aged between 60 and 80. The market is open from 1pm to 7pm daily. Tourists, foreign workers and locals flock there on weekends to buy bits and bobs such as old coins, stamps, cassettes, jewellery, clothes and electronic gear.
Mr Loon Kwai Sng, 74, who sells electric parts, said: "Who will employ us? We're used to making a living on our own."
Father of three Ng Gin Kun, 62, who sells used phones, said: "We want the chance to fend for ourselves and be independent."
The letter stated that the NEA and other agencies will work with vendors and match them with financial assistance schemes.
The NEA had previously said the peddlers can bid for hawker centre stalls. But Mr Koh said: "We're not selling food, so a hawker stall space makes little sense. We shouldn't be split up either. It's the variety of goods that helps make the market unique."
The association's proposal, sent to government agencies in April last year, stated that it would take responsibility for maintaining the cleanliness and security of whatever space it used.
At present, the NEA makes daily checks to stop illegal hawking activities outside the zone and the sale of prohibited goods within it.
Central Singapore District mayor Denise Phua urged the Government to put together an inter-ministry work group "capable of making decisions on the vision and desired purpose of such a market, who their stakeholders are and their real needs and motivations".
As well as older traders in need of social aid, there are some opportunistic traders who are attracted to the Jalan Besar market because of its rent-free and city location.
Residents have complained about the market. One grouse is about traders who store goods in their void decks. However, Rowell Road resident Mardene Tay, 57, who has lived there for 30 years, said: "It was worse in the past. Today, cleaners clear up the mess shortly after they close, so I don't mind it that much. After all, the peddlers are just trying to earn a living."
Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin said the market is a good example of a functioning community and economic system and a facet of Singapore's rich and diverse urban life.
It was documented by the National Heritage Board last year.