Bangkok’s 14-billion baht Chao Phraya River Promenade needs rethink
Earlier this month, the Central Administrative Court gave a ruling that spells the end to the Chao Phraya River Promenade — a lavishing 14-billion baht riverside landscape brainchild of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The ruling again serves as a reminder that centralised and top-down decisions from the government that try to rush projects along may not survive public resistance.
The ruling clearly spelt out how the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)-executed project violates related laws. The court judges found the BMA failed to comply with the country’s law that requires state agencies to conduct a meaningful public hearing where the local community that stands to be affected by the government’s plan can be fully informed and consulted.
The court also found that City Hall failed to seek permits from the Harbour Department and the Fine Arts Department for its plan to develop a structure along the Chao Phraya River in the historic old town section.
The ruling, nevertheless, did not put the nail in the coffin for the plan to build a promenade on both sides of the river — 7km each in length and 10 metres in width, starting from Rama VII Bridge in the Bang Sue area to Pin Klao Bridge.
If City Hall wants to continue with the project, the court ruling states that it needs to start over again by conducting a meaningful public hearing, developing a new design responsive to the community’s needs and conducting a quality environmental impact assessment.
The question is what the new administration team under governor Chadchart Sittipunt plans to do.
So far, the Bangkok governor has decided not to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, his predecessor — the junta-appointed Aswin Kwanmuang — wasted time, manpower and 120 million baht of taxpayers in an aggressive push for the project that got nothing in return except a lawsuit and conflicts.
Mr Chadchart seems to have a new vision for the river. Last year, he said in a media interview that the promenade should be scaled down. His idea might see the BMA only build a riverside walkway — just 3 metres in width instead of 10 metres at only some possible spots, with access to local communities or historic and touristy sites.
Mr Chadchart pledged any new version of the project would comply with legal obligations — communities being well informed and consulted and that the project must get a quality environmental impact assessment approved before going ahead. Private investors reportedly might be invited to bear the construction cost.
But while such a new idea sounds good, it might not be a sound decision in terms of river ecology. For some environmentalists, the Chao Phraya, which has been narrowed by river encroachment, should be kept as it is to give plenty of room for water to flow in and out. Having more concrete structures and pillars, they say, will further make the river narrower, affecting water flow and worsening flooding.
Such concerns are not groundless. Provincial administrations upstream of the Chao Phraya have built flood-prevention walls and walkways along the river. These built structures have resulted in flooding and erosion as the soft soil, which absorbs water, was replaced with hard concrete structures.
Perhaps instead of setting the goal of building a promenade along the river, City Hall can focus on developing the landscape within communities along the river and engaging local participation to design a landscape that won’t worsen the river ecology.
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.