Chao Phraya promenade project faces opposition

The banks along the Chao Phraya River have suddenly become a red-hot zone for real estate development. Over the past few years, a number of investors have turned to this once dormant area and used it to build high-rise buildings.

The latest move has been made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has announced a plan to turn the riverside area into a promenade, dubbed the "New Landmark of Thailand," with a 14-billion-baht budget.

The promenade's first 14 kilometres start from the Rama VII Bridge to Pin Klao Bridge, spanning both sides of the river.

The next phase will extend upstream to Phra Nang Klao bridge and the last phase will stretch down from Pin Klao bridge to Rama III bridge.

Yet the "New Landmark" faces a challenge. Last month, professional architects started to express concern about its blueprints which include a high flood embankment, measuring 3.5 metres. Their fear is warranted because the proposed design, at 19.5m in width, is the old version that was created two decades ago when the authorities initiated a plan to build roads and flood prevention walls along both sides of the Chao Phraya River.

"We welcome the development along the river but we are deeply worried about the blueprint of the project which is a one-size-fits-all straight concrete structure," said Asst Professor Khaisri Puksukcharoen of the urban planning department at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of architecture.

"We highly recommend the government pause the project for public hearings and environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies. The design blueprint must be revised."

The design, she said, was not suitable for the physical and social complexities of the Chao Phraya River.

"The-one-size-fits-all design of this project does not take into account the connectivity between the promenade and communities living deep inland," she said.

"This river is not a straight gutter but a cultural and ecological landscape which is characterised by various communities, with different cultures and varied land use, temples of different faiths, schools, and various ecological systems."

As a result, around 29 well-established communities — among them government agency offices, schools and traditional temples — will be affected.

The architects, lecturers from various educational institutes including Chulalongkorn, Silpakorn, Thammasat and Kasetsart universities as well as civic groups have formed a network called the Chao Phraya Riverside Area Development Alliance to keep a close watch on this project.

Their call has gone unheard. On Wednesday, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning dismissed the call for the EIA studies. 

Resistance against the riverside promenade has now grown. Thammasat University, hospital operators and owners of buildings along the river are on high alert over the project. Many are concerned with the visual impact from the promenade.

Assist Prof Panit Pujinda, lecturer on urban planning at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of architecture, warned that the flood embankment will become an eyesore, given that it will be a solid chunk of concrete.

The group also challenged the idea of flood prevention using such a concrete structure, with many believing it will be counterproductive.

They pointed out that, ecologically, the Chao Phraya receives surface runoff from inland areas including networks of canals, and the 3.5m dyke would block the runoff and instead turn the inland into "a bowl of soup".

Growing resistance has prompted state planners to consider reducing the width of the embankment.

Assoc Prof Ariya Aruninta of the faculty of landscape architecture at Chulalongkorn said the concrete structure was an outdated design.

"The concept of flood management changes regarding the landscape and land use development," she said.

"We have realised that the concrete hard structure will not prevent flooding and that the more you build, the higher water will rise, as this kind of embankment will prevent water from naturally flowing into the areas it should."

The lecturer said green design advocates are now looking at "permeable surfaces" as an alternative in flood prevention. These surfaces make use of the natural land area or its space to help retain and absorb floodwater, and the method has been used in Thailand flood prevention before, including for its wetlands and canals.

The best example is His Majesty the King's kaem ling project (translated literally as "monkey cheek") that diverts floodwater to natural storage channels, Assoc Prof Ariya said.


Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post.

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