Thailand's rapid and directionless urbanisation will soon be revamped, thanks to the new Town and City Planning Act, which overhauls the urban planning process.
The draft Town and City Planning Act, which won cabinet approval in September, will clearly designate areas nationwide suitable for development.
The new draft, which will replace the existing Town and City Planning Act of 1975, will divide town planning into national, regional and provincial levels and allow local administrative organisations to take part in town planning. It also requires public hearings and the participation of local communities.
Under the new measures, town planning will be handled by three boards: a national level board chaired by the prime minister or deputy prime minister; a regional level board chaired by the interior minister and a provincial level one chaired by the provincial governor.
The national board will be responsible mainly for providing guidelines and policies on national level town and city planning including the criteria for land use, while the regional board will take charge of supervising and approving the town and city planning proposed by each province and the Public Works Department.
The provincial board will oversee town and city planning proposed by local administrative organisations.
The new draft is pending consideration by the Council of State and the National Legislative Assembly. It is expected to come into force next year.
Critics have long called for amendments to the Town and City Planning Act, saying it failed to foster real public participation and overlooked conservation.
According to Atip Bijanonda, a member of the urban planning and land use reform committee under the National Reform Steering Assembly, the new act will help shape the country's development strategy and benefit the property sector as a whole.
"Thailand has never considered the importance of town and city planning. We just have the National Economic and Social Development Board to direct the country's social and economic development but we have no other agencies to handle the country's physical development."
Mr Atip says with no city planning on the national agenda, Thailand has been facing problems such as hefty logistics costs caused by locating raw materials production bases far from factories and manufacturing bases.
Most production bases are located near river basins, which should be used for agricultural production.
"The high-speed train development plan announced by previous governments triggered land speculation and drove property prices too high, particularly in provinces where the high-speed trains would pass. Once the plan is frozen, the property market in those provinces will face an immediate slump."
"The new act will help prevent changes in policy when governments change," says Mr Atip, who is also president of the Housing Business Association and chairman of the trade, construction and real estate clubs under the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Under the new act, according to Mr Atip, city planning will come up with guidelines to make infrastructure development plan more integrated. All agencies related to infrastructure development are required to comply with the city planning, not act alone.
He says existing city planning in some provinces is not designed to support local utilities as related agencies are independent and lack coordination. As a result, there are problems like periodic droughts or floods.
The establishment of a new department, the Town Planning Department, which will be separate from the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning (DPT), will make city planning more focused.
Monthon Sudprasert, the director-general of the DPT, says the new town planning regulations will match each area's development plans and policies and current situation.
"The new town planning regulations will be more flexible to promote development of economic and industrial zones while city planning for special economic zones will support Asean integration," he says. "Under the new act, the general public will be encouraged to take part."
He says the new draft will have no time limit for the enforcement of each level of town planning.
Under the current act, planning is subject to expiry every five years, leading developers to capitalise on the loophole while the new plan comes into force.
According to the DPT, there are now 33 provinces where new city planning has been approved and ready to be implemented.
In the initial stage, Samut Prakan has been proposed as a residential town to support Bangkok's urbanisation as the province will have more skytrain stations from the extension of the BTS line, which will be completed in the near future.
With Suvarnabhumi airport situated in the province, it will also be developed as an aviation hub where aviation-related activities will be promoted. Existing industries that are not related to aviation or air transport may be relocated to other areas.
Nonthaburi has been slated as a government administration centre connected with Bangkok's existing government centre. It will also serve as a residential area for people working in Bangkok and Nonthaburi as both provinces are supported by the Purple Line electric train project.
Pathum Thani is being developed as a centre of science and technology research and study as well as a residential zone in Rangsit Khlong 1,2 and 3.
As Samut Sakhon will remain a fishery centre, the new city plan will promote large-scale fishery-related industries.
In Nakhon Pathom, where the residential area currently connects with western Bangkok, low-rise residential development with a low density will be promoted in order to conserve agricultural areas.
Although Chachoengsao is not part of Greater Bangkok, the study will also include the province as Bangkok's urban spread expands into Chachoengsao's western side.
"After the study is completed, the DPT and the BMA [Bangkok Metropolitan Administration] will join those provinces to evaluate city planning by considering linkage and new infrastructure which the government plans to implement in the future such as the motorway, and double-track and high-speed rail before submitting a central city plan for the six provinces for amendment next year," says Mr Monthon.
Vanchai Thanomsak, director-general of the BMA's City Planning Department, says the Bangkok city plan is required to support land utilisation, facilities and utilities, transport network and the environment.
"We need to consider all of these issues before drawing up a city plan," he says. "In some zones around mass-transit stations, an increase in floor area ratio to add more space to construct residential areas should be taken into account to maximise land use."
The new city plan should be in line with future mass-transit lines or infrastructure plans, Mr Vanchai says.