Valuable old buildings which form part of the national heritage are being put at risk
While many residents are eagerly awaiting the next subway line to ease the agony of commuting, another kind of woe has arisen because of the construction – that of the cost to Bangkok’s cultural heritage, in particular in the city’s treasured old quarter.
The construction of the Blue Line subway is spelling out “the blues” for people fearful it could wipe out some precious historic places.
A section of the Blue Line from Hua Lamphong to Phutthamonthon – coming in at a hefty price tag of 49.9 billion baht – will pass through old city precincts in Samphanthawong district, and that is where the danger lies, according to local residents.
The district is home to clusters of architectural heritage sites in the Yaowarat, Song Wat and Werng Nakhon Kasem areas.
The train route will include stations in the inner historical zones including at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, one of the country’s most-visited Chinese temples which is more popularly known as Lengnoeiyi Temple, and Wang Burapha.
Residents affected by the train project point out that the ongoing construction of the subway requires the demolition of old and architecturally unique buildings.
But recognising the need for sustained measures to protect the living culture largely embodied by the old buildings, they have called on City Hall to help conserve the historical places they grew up with in their neighbourhood.
They have appealed to City Hall’s working group which sets directions for preserving and developing areas adjacent to the old Rattanakosin periphery.
The residents and the working group, chaired by Kriangphon Phatthanarat, chief of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Department of City Planning, met for the first time on Feb 28 to thrash out guidelines for minimising the effects of the train project on the landscape.
The meeting came after the residents formally asked Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra to amend city planning regulations which they insist do not address the problems that urban residents have with infrastructure projects such as the subway slated for construction in historical zones, particularly Samphanthawong and Pomprap Sattruphai districts.
The BMA also needs to review the permission it grants to developers of commercial land in the radius of 500 metres from the Blue Line stations sitting in the old city quarters.
“In essence, they want the city office to consider revoking permission in areas or communities with historical importance,” said Surachet Srisuchart, head of the city zoning and restoring section under the Department of City Planning.
He said Samphanthawong needs urgent conservation because of the concentration of buildings of high historical value.
The residents are also pressing the BMA to motivate people to conserve their centuries-old neighbourhoods and fund activities to restore old buildings, a move which has led to the establishment of the Kriangphon working group.
The group is expected to give advice on future city planning as it is made up of land developers, historical zone conservationists, scholars and residents.
The group is also open to representatives from the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand which operates the subway trains, the Department of City Planning, the Association of Siamese Architects, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology (Thonburi campus) and local communities in the three districts.
However, the group’s activities are not proceeding as smoothly as it would like, Mr Kriangphon said.
Despite a city ordinance limiting building heights in historical areas, Samphanthawong and Pomprap Sattruphai are classified as commercial districts, according to the BMA’s map of land use.
The conservation measures reached by the Kriangphon working group include listing historical sites, banning the demolition of buildings in those areas and allowing local people to have more of a role in setting their cultural zones.
The worry over the construction of the Blue Line shows that many local residents in historical districts are increasingly aware of their historical roots.
“The panel will talk with all parties and forward its findings to the city’s administrators as soon as possible,” Mr Kriangphon said.
The group has scheduled its second meeting for April 30.