Shuttered retail shops in one of the malls in Singapore Orchard (Photo - Terry Xu)

Is the appointment of Aussie firm to rejuvenate Orchard Road the right choice?

Plans to rejuvenate Singapore’s main shopping strip were recently announced with the appointment of Australian planning and strategy firm Urbis Australia to analyse what can be done to ensure Orchard Road’s ongoing relevance to Singapore’s retail and tourism sector. While I do not know enough about Urbis’s track record to comment on their suitability, I do have questions concerning the appointment process and procedure. I also have questions in relation to why the government thought this analysis was required in the first place.

Murmurings of Orchard Road’s decline are not new. For a few years now, there have been reports on the decline of retail in Singapore. With the advent of internet shopping, Amazon Prime and the ever increasing rental prices in retail spaces, is this decline really a surprise? Singapore is saturated with malls! There is a mall in every estate and each mall has the same bog standard set up – shops, food court, and cinema theatres. Is there really a need to go to Orchard Road?

Before rushing to build so many malls island-wide, did the government consider the impact this would have on Orchard Road? Do we have too many malls for too few people? Perhaps it is better to consider the number of malls throughout the country before rushing to spend millions in engaging a firm to tell us how to rejuvenate malls.

Secondly, the government must surely understand that people no longer shop the same way. With the increasing popularity of online megastores such as Amazon, the patronage in malls is bound to drop. With that in mind, do we really need to pay out millions to a company just to shore up an industry that is already outdated in concept. i.e. is there still a demand for malls?

Thirdly, has the government ever considered that the decline in retail is in part brought on by the ever increasing rental price? Finite number of consumers, an over supply of malls plus ever increasing rental prices is bound to negatively affect retail. Do we really need to shell out millions just to come to this conclusion?

Further, was the project to rejuvenate Orchard Road ever discussed in Parliament? How was Urbis selected?  Was Urbis selected based on price or ideas or both? Given that we are spending so much public money, has the justification for appointing Ubis been properly explained in Parliament?

Last but not least, what relevant experience does Urbis have? Surely the types of tourists that come to Singapore and those that go to Australia would be different. A firm with Aussie experience may not translate to the right experience for Singapore?