The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has revised its city plan, drawing the ire of people who fear the imposition of the new zoning rules will have a negative impact on their properties.
Bangkok's 1,568-square-kilometre area is being rearranged to fit the BMA's fifth city plan, the newest edition of its city management roadmap which is set to be unveiled in 2025.
According to Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt, the present blueprint was drafted in 2013.
There have been major economic and social changes since then, argues the governor, hence the need for the new the draft, which was first announced on Dec 8.
Seven public hearings followed, the last of which was held at the Thai-Japanese Bangkok Youth Centre on Jan 6.
However, the updated city plan has encountered a huge backlash from the public and experts, who argued that it is "pro-developer" and contrary to the governor's policy pledge to increase public parks around the city.
Kongsak Sahasakmontri, from the Urban Life Quality Protection Community Network, said many people are unaware of the existence of the revised plan despite the public hearings.
"It is not enough for BMA to accept only 2,000 participants for each hearing, considering that at least five million people are living in Bangkok," said Mr Kongsak.
Kongsak: Drafting process not inclusive
Business over residents
During the final hearing, many Bangkok residents expressed concerns about what they perceived to be a bias towards commercial developers and not the commitment to green spaces they had been told to expect.
Thaiwut Khankaew, director of the BMA's City Planning and Development Department, told the Bangkok Post the revised version of the city plan is consistent with changes in the lives of Bangkok residents, especially given the expansion of the mass transit system.
He said ultimately, the hope is to see people relocate to areas where there is, or will be a skytrain, or subway train service, in an effort to reduce reliance on private modes of transport.
In addition, BMA also plans to widen 148 roads totalling over 600 kilometres to support these new urban hubs.
"In the next 20-30 years, we do not know what will happen but the wider roads will ensure that people in those areas will have roads that are convenient for commuting," he said.
He said the draft is still only on the 5th of the required 18-step process, and still a document upon which the public can express opinions and have changes made.
"There is still a lot of time left to reach a conclusion on the draft," he said.
Thaiwut: New plan needed as city changes
One of the locals who might be affected by the road expansion is Asst Prof Sojiphong Chatraphorn, a lecturer from the Faculty of Science at Chulalongkorn University, whose apartment is in Soi Ari Samphan of Phaya Thai district.
He said there are many condominiums being built by real estate developers in Soi Ari Samphan.
This is similar to what happened along Soi Ruam Rudi, where the width of the road is actually not wide enough to build high-rise condos in accordance to existing regulations.
"If the connecting roads in Soi Ari Samphan and Soi Ari are expanded, it will not help ease traffic but will allow real estate developers to go ahead with high-rise condominium projects while residents suffer more traffic jams and air pollution," he said.
He said the city also needs a place to store rainwater, more green areas and wider sidewalks.
A member of the Phaya Thai Conservation Club, Asst Prof Sojipong said the club will submit a petition to concerned agencies about the draft city plan.
Sonthi Kotchawat, a Thai Environ- mental Academics' health and environment expert, said the draft indicates that any road less than 10 metres in width will be expanded to be at least 12 metres to ease traffic.
That two-metre widening also means high-rise buildings can be built and landowners will be affected as the building of public roads puts their properties at risk of expropriation.
Weeraphan Shinawatra, vice president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, said as natural areas in Bangkok dwindle, many urban pollution problems have become worse, such as the PM2.5 dust and insufficient floodwater drainage.
The draft also promotes the development of special commercial areas in the suburban districts of Min Buri, Lat Krabang, Srinakarin, Bang Khun Thian, Bang Mot, Taling Chan and Saphan Mai but does not outline which areas will be earmarked for low-cost housing.
In addition, green areas for farming have been cut by 70% while conservation areas to promote the uniqueness of Thai arts and culture have all disappeared.
The BMA should be concerned about all aspects of city development, he said.
Amid climate change, fewer green areas leads to concerns about the environment, including air pollution and flood management.
Mr Weeraphan said the revision also might result in economic problems and a lower quality of life for people in poorer areas.
Asst Prof Sitang Pilailar, a lecturer of the Faculty of Engineering at Kasetsart University, said the capital has always faced flooding and the new draft should attempt to solve the problem.
Feedback is welcome
Governor Chadchart Sittipunt said he was delighted and thanked everyone for their interest in giving feedback on the new blueprint.
"The plan is like a city constitution. Many aspects still need to be improved. We are trying to make it more suitable for the current situation and are ready to listen to everyone's opinions," he said.
Chadchart: Ready to listen to public
As of now, the draft plan is in the early stages in which the BMA seeks public opinion.
The BMA has extended that deadline from Jan 22 until the end of this month, he said, adding that, when the deadline passes, the plan will be submitted to the Provincial Town Planning Committee.
Stakeholders can also request amendments or changes in another step of the planning process, he said.
"We are willing to listen to everyone in the hope we can develop this city for the better," he said.
Wisanu Subsompon, a deputy Bangkok governor, told the Bangkok Post the plan was written based on its expansion and the need for rezoning to increase green spaces for the public.
"With that said, the revision is not intended to benefit certain groups of developers," said Mr Wisanu.
"We want the plan to help make Bangkok as a city for all, with more public space and eco-friendly areas for everyone."