Harmony put at risk near Ban Plainern
Within the next few weeks, the threat to the charm and physical structure of Ban Plainern, a cultural landmark, may become reality, if City Hall gives the nod to the construction of a controversial 36-storey condo project next door.
The Chitrabongs family who live in this distinctive house are not confident yte authorities will listen to their concerns about the impact of the project on the house, which is located next to Klong Toey MRT station on Rama IV Road. The house is where Prince Narisaranuvattiwongse spent his final days before his passing in 1947.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
Ban Plainern's residents have experienced the impact of a major construction project before. They have had to put up with dust and vibrations from the construction of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority's new office. But there is some distance between the MEA office and the house, compared to the proposed condo project. The high-rise will tower over the concrete Tamnak Tuek, which is 20 metres away, as well as the wooden Tamnak Thai, about 70 metres away.
Built about eight decades ago, Tamnak Tuek was built with traditional construction techniques. The building's foundations were made with wooden poles.
The family found that the condo has very little porous surface on its property and although the blueprint may meet the opening space ratio standard, there are concerns about the impact of the underground parking lots. One doesn't need to be a landscape architect to realise that the residence will become the new condo's water reservoir.
ML Suthanit Chitrabongs said her family has already expressed these concerns, among other issues such as traffic congestion after the project's completion. Most condo residents are likely to have private cars after all.
Developers may argue that the house is not registered as an archaeological site, but its value as a national heritage site is indisputable. The residence is also a public space, as the family opens it for public viewing in April each year to commemorate the artistic Prince Narisaranuvattiwongse. It is also home to a Thai classical music school.
ML Suthanit also complained that the family, as those who will be directly affected by the construction, haven't had a chance to look at the revised construction proposal that was resubmitted on Oct 11. The law requires affected parties to lodge their complaints within 30 days. That means the family have only two weeks left to oppose the revised plan that they have never even seen.
Despite the importance of Ban Plainern, City Hall seems to be sluggish in its handling of the case, forcing the residents to be relentless in their efforts. What about ordinary people, whose houses are of no historical value but are subject to the negative impacts of construction projects? Chances are dim that City Hall will treat their complaints with any enthusiasm.
Take the Aetas Hotel and Residence cases.
The hotel would have never been built if Pathumwan district officers followed the building code and listened to the concerns of the neighbourhood's residents who eventually took the case to the Administrative Court, which in 2014 ruled in their favour. The hotel operator must demolish the building.
The Supreme Administrative Court, in late September, threw out the hotel operator's appeal, but the hotel and residence is still operating despite a warning from City Hall on the illegality of the structure.
On my street, a 25-storey condo was approved in May and is being built near the Pathumwan district temporary office without proper public hearings having been held. The project owners claimed surveyors were sent out to find if residents were opposed to the construction.
We will never know if the team provided accurate information to each family. A few elderly residents told me they didn't oppose the construction because they were told, during the survey, that the condo project had already been approved.
It is understandable that districts without any distinguishing heritage value like Ploenchit and my neighbourhood may have to accommodate more high rises. But in the case of Ban Plainern, the cultural element should be taken into account.
If the controversial condominium is given the go-ahead, then City Hall must broker a deal with the residents-to-be to make sure they respect and adapt to the community.
Otherwise, there may be conflict -- like with the temple bell saga -- if newcomers cannot tolerate the noise of Thai classical music lessons on weekends.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.