The Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) is waiting for the Fine Arts Department to approve its plan for the new Democracy Monument Station, which has come under fire from conservationists and residents alike over its likely impact on historic buildings, in what is one of Bangkok's oldest neighbourhoods.
The station, which was known as Phan Fa Station before the Department of Rail Transport renamed it to bring it in line with the naming convention for the capital's rail network, is part of the extended Purple Line electric rail route. The extension will have 17 stations along its 23.6-kilometre route from Tao Poon to Rat Burana, effectively linking Nonthaburi, Bangkok and Samut Prakan provinces.
As the extension will pass through Rattanakosin Island, also known as the heart of Bangkok's Old Town neighbourhood, residents are concerned the construction will have an adverse impact on the area's historical sites -- in particular, seven old shophouses on Phra Sumen Road in Phra Nakhon district, which the MRTA plans to incorporate into the new station.
The plan, however, is opposed by Rosana Tositrakul, a former Bangkok senator and president of Rattanakosin Heritage Conservation Group (RHCG), who fears the shophouses would ultimately be torn down to make way for the station.
As such, she has urged the MRTA to consider building the station away from the neighbourhood's older buildings -- a suggestion dismissed by the MRTA, which said that doing so would hurt the station's accessibility.
As of now, the buildings remain sealed off. Before the land on which the buildings stand was appropriated by the MRTA, the shophouses hosted a local grocery store as well as a steamed bun and coffee stall.
The grocer who ran his business from one of the shophouses, Vissanukorn Jaidee, told the Bangkok Post that the building has been around for at least eight decades.
He inherited the store from his father and ran it for thirty years until he was told to vacate the building.
"Personally, I don't want the land to be expropriated as I am old and feel attached to this place. Besides, I don't think building the station here will boost ridership, as this area is not a busy zone," he said.
Not many passengers use Sam Yot Station on the Blue Line, which was also built in a historic neighbourhood.
Boonsub Poonsawat, who ran the coffee shop next door, said she hoped the MRTA would reconsider its plan so future generations can have a piece of the neighbourhood's historical heritage.
Surangrat Suriyasomboon, who owned the seven shophouses, said the land belonged to the grandfather of Lek Nana, one of the founders of the Democrat Party, who was once known as the Landlord of Bangkok.
His grandfather was given the royal rank of Phrapitesatraphanich during the reign of King Rama V, a title which has stayed in the Nana family for generations.
"We didn't receive as much compensation for the land, but we understand we have to make sacrifices for the public.
"We were supposed to receive 100 million baht, but settled for 60 [million baht] in the end," she said.
"What can we do? The MRTA has always stressed the need to build the station there."
According to the Fine Arts Department, the shophouses are being considered for listing as historic sites.
A source said the building may have been built during the reign of Rama VI. As such, under Section 4 of the Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums Act 1961, the property could be considered a heritage site due to its architectural significance and historical importance.
That said, there are other elements besides age that must be considered too, he said.
The MRTA said that while the shophouses will have to be torn down to make way for the station's entrance, they will be rebuilt in the same style, like the agency did at Wat Mangkon and Sanam Chai stations.
The MRTA has yet to proceed with the construction as it is still waiting for the Fine Arts Department to approve the blueprint in an effort to minimise the impact on surrounding buildings.