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A general overview of Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Doubts surround Phnom Penh’s master plan

Last Friday, Phnom Penh’s master plan until 2035 was fully approved by the council of ministers, as announced by Pa Socheatvong, governor of Phnom Penh. While it is claimed that the plan is complete, those in the private and public sector and other relevant stakeholders fear that they have not been adequately consulted, raising concerns that implementation is unlikely and unjust.

Without a publicly available draft that addresses socio-economic conditions as well as infrastructure, zoning, land title rights and all other concerns that come with the development of a city, they say it is unclear as to what the plan actually entails.

Takashi Ito, Senior Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) described the master plan as “a fruit of self-efforts by Phnom Penh municipality,” stating that JICA played no part in the current approved plan.

Ito pointed out however, that JICA has submitted a master plan for transportation lines in March of this year, and is currently working on a master plan for a citywide sewage and drainage system.

“We continue to be interested in healthy development of the capital city, which is why we have engaged in [these] two master plans,” Ito stated in an email.

While Ito wouldn’t give Post Property an overview of the resources that are necessary to implement only a few crucial issues concerning city development, he admitted that without adequate resources, “it is not really practical to try to address all the problems,” he said.

When it comes to meeting the demands of a burgeoning city and population, “it is, in a sense, a question of priority,” he said.

To him, the success of a master plan hinges “not only on the degree of commitment of the municipality itself, but also on the degree of support and participation of other relevant governmental institutions, [possibly including] the private sector” and civil society.

Piotr Sasin, country director for Czech NGO People in Need that focuses on spatial planning in Phnom Penh, called it “worrying that the plan has been developed in secrecy without the consultation of civil society groups.”

He argues that city development is a complicated process that needs to be carefully coordinated to ensure implementation that properly addresses all issues.

“We would appreciate if the municipality shared the plan with all shareholders so they can work on something that we will all be proud about. There are resources and the capacity to do this,” he said.

Considering the sheer complexity of a master plan, Sasin admitted that “the majority of all master plans are never really implemented.”

“It’s about the process, bringing the people together and it would be the job of the municipality to coordinate these efforts,” he said.

Long Dimanche, spokesperson of City Hall, however, said that there have been specialists outside the municipality working on the master plan.

“We have been working on this master plan since 2002 and had help from many groups of Cambodian professionals such as architectures, land management, landscaping, environmental, engineering, and [from the] cultural aspect and we had advice from French experts,” he said.

According to Nicolas Baudouin, spokesperson for the French Embassy, French involvement in the city master plan ended with the publication of the 2007 White Paper, titled Livre Blanc. While the 330-page long master plan was published by Phnom Penh municipality, and outlined development until 2020, it was never adopted.

“The project was considered complete with the publishing of the report and funding stopped. Why it wasn’t adopted, I don’t know,” Baudouin said.

Even though French involvement stopped in 2007, governor Socheatvong cited 14 focus points that are identical to the ones listed back in 2007.

While the 14 points are meant to address issues such as zoning, open spaces and land title issues, Socheatvong said that what contributed to the adoption of this version was spurred by economic growth, commerce and a rising population.

“The main purpose of the 2035 Phnom Penh land usage is the strategic document in order to serve the government’s ambition as well as the aim of Phnom Penh municipality and their vision toward 2035 of managing and setting the direction of economic development… in an attempt to meet the increasing demand of private investment and the population in Phnom Penh,” he said.

Dimanche added that he did not know when the overall master plan would be published publicly, despite last week’s approval. However, he said the government will issue a new order to properly implement the city development plan.

Meng Bunnarith, spokesperson for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that while the framework that was adopted by the council of ministers is comprehensive, it only provides a general overview that does not give much insight to critical details. The ministry has to set specific regulations in order to ensure a clearer use of land, he said.

Nevertheless, Sasin fears that a master plan can be used to further exclude marginalised groups.

“My main fear is that it will be a plan for the privileged,” he said.

As an example, he worries that poor urban communities who have been excluded from systematic land titling, such as the evictees in Borei Keila or in Boeung Kak, would still not be addressed.

He added that City Hall’s lack of transparency opens the door for misjudgment and misinterpretation.

“If they published the document and got other stakeholders involved they could really pass on a positive message to the city which would be: we care.”

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