City to rezone nightspots

City to rezone nightspots

Police general says measures prompted by recent fires at venues

Bustling scenes on Sukhumvit Soi Nana, Bangkok, in June. (Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
Bustling scenes on Sukhumvit Soi Nana, Bangkok, in June. (Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) plans to work with the Metropolitan Police Bureau to revise zoning for night entertainment venues.

In an interview with Bangkok Post, Pol Gen Adis Ngamchitsuksri, an adviser to Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt on city and tourism management, said he was assigned by the governor to work on a zoning review.

Pol Gen Adis said the idea follows two recent blazes.

One happened in Silom Soi 2 where a fire broke out on the evening of July 7 on the first floor of a six-storey building that operated as a pub. No one was hurt. The other was when the Mountain B pub in Chon Buri's Sattahip district burnt down on Aug 5 resulting in the deaths of 19 and injuries to more than 30 people.

Both incidents prompted safety inspections of entertainment sites in the capital. Out of 50 districts, it was found that 83 locations have safety problems. The inspections also found that most night entertainment sites are located outside nightlife zones.

Pol Gen Adis said the Interior Ministry in 2002 designated three areas in Bangkok for nightlife zones, namely Patpong Road, Makkasan Road around Royal City Avenue (RCA), and Ratchadaphisek Road. The aim was to regulate tourists and prevent them from disturbing local residents.

However, over time night entertainment venues opened in other areas.

"People have changed their lifestyle in terms of dining and hanging out. Instead of going to old places, they visit other new sites such as Thong Lor-Ekamai, Soi Ari on Phahon Yothin Road, Khao San and Lat Phrao Road which are not listed in the ministry's zoning plan," Pol Gen Adis said.

Even though the BMA has no authority in zoning these places, it is in talks with the Metropolitan Police Bureau before making a proposal to the Interior Ministry on new nightlife zoning that would be more in line with people's current lifestyle, he said.

Entertainment venues under the Entertainment Place Act BE 2509 (1966) include nightclubs, massage parlours, cocktail lounges, karaoke bars, pubs and large restaurants.

The act was amended in 2003 to limit the operating hours of night entertainment venues. Nightclubs and discotheques can remain open until 2am while cocktail lounges, karaoke bars, pubs and large restaurants can operate until 1am. Massage parlours can stay open until midnight.

Pol Gen Adis said pubs in the capital required two licences -- a food licence requested through the BMA and a licence to sell alcoholic drinks from the Excise Department.

Citing information from the Metropolitan Police Bureau, there are 241 licensed pubs in the city but only 80 of them (about 33%) are located in the nightlife zones while 161 of them are located outside the zones.

However, there were another 651 locations operated without the licenses -- only 12 of them (1.8%) were located in the permitted zones while the remaining 639 places were located outside the zoning, he said.

"The zoning needs to be revised in order to keep up with changes," Pol Gen Adis said.

The Bangkok governor's adviser also floated an idea to apply artificial intelligence (AI) systems to regulate these venues.

"We want to apply AI technology so that we know the operating hours and can effectively check if each venue closes according to the law. If there are fights, crimes or fire, the system can alert the authorities in time to help deal with such problems," he said.

Pol Gen Adis said City Hall works with district officers to inspect the safety of the entertainment sites weekly.

Each inspection focuses on the condition of electrical wires to prevent short-circuiting and venues need to have basic safety requirements in place including fire extinguishers, emergency lights and emergency exits.

He said officers also check that emergency exits are not blocked.

Pol Gen Adis said that some venues had decorated their places with flammable objects such as using cotton balls on a ceiling to imitate clouds.

The teams all gave recommendations and safety guidelines for business operators to follow, he said.

"Our inspection teams have an eye for details," he said.

Pol Gen Adis also said the governor has instructed the officers not to compromise on safety.

"Whenever we see something that is unsafe, the venue owners must find a solution within seven days, or their business will be suspended," said Pol Gen Adis.

"I promise the BMA's officials will expedite inspections at each entertainment venue to assure safety. Our target is that within this month, at least 80% of the entertainment venues must have the equipment to deal with a fire," he said.

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