The long-awaited Master Plan for Phnom Penh, approved by the Cambodian government this past December, has been welcomed by the real estate sector despite its late approval. And while the Master Plan – called Phnom Penh Land Use for 2035 – had been prepared since 2002, its official approval had been delayed for nearly 13 years while developments cited within the document have long been underway or completed.
The plan approved and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December of last year, supposedly details necessary development projects including infrastructure, garden spaces and the maintenance of the city’s ecological system.
An official from the Phnom Penh Municipality, however, said the 35-page paper that appeared in local media last week, is merely a brief version summarised from the original thousand-page document that Governor Pa Socheatvong presented to Prime Minister Hun Sen last December.
During the announcement of the approval for the plan, Socheatvong cited 14 specific focus points that were identical to the ones listed in the French-funded White Paper, titled Livre Blanc that came out in 2007 and was intended to be a master plan for Phnom Penh until 2020. They were meant to address issues of zoning, public and private land, and the issuing of land titles.
However, the 35-page document has no mention of these focus points. Socheatvong declined to comment on the document, and referred Post Property to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche for further information.
“I can not provide full details. The master plan has a thousand pages. [The 35-page paper] is just a summary which was presented by the governor to the Council of Ministers,” said Dimanche.
“We are happy to have the plan to develop the city because Phnom Penh is confronting a growing population, increased vehicle [traffic] and many development projects in the future.”
Unable to provide specifics on future developments, the document highlights projects that have either already been undertaken, or are completely finished – leaving ambiguity towards if this plan has been already followed for over a decade, or if it is merely an extension of the proposed Master Plan 2020 which has been extended till 2035.
Another possibility might be that the 35 pages, written in retrospect, summarises developments that are not representative of an overall strategic future.
For instance, the Kob Srov dike (highlighted in the document), was completed in 2001 to prevent flooding in Phnom Penh. The document also outlines the relocation of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port from the Daun Penh District to its new cargo terminal in Kandal province’s Keansvay District, which occured in 2013.
Another development project such as the railway station for example – previously situated in the Boeung Kak Lake area – was relocated to the Por Senchey district in the capital’s outskirts and completed in 2012, while the Phnom Penh International Airport has already been expanded over the last few years.
According to the document, 10,000 low-income families have been relocated from the city centre to the outskirts in an attempt to improve communities and beautify the city – moving those who illegally occupy land and opening it up for private companies to develop.
However, with mixed results, this process has been underway since as early as 2003 when 2.6 hectares of Borei Keila was granted to Suy Sophan-owned Phanimex company by the government in a controversial exchange aimed at creating a housing development project.
Another instance of the now-approved Master Plan appearing to being applied retroactively, can be seen in the 2007 sale of Boeung Kak Lake to CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin-owned Shukaku Inc., which led to the eviction of 4,000 families.
Kim Heang, President of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA), said the Master Plan has been a long time coming, but acknowledges its significance for the real estate sector.
“Commonly, we have found [that] regulations in Cambodia always come after actions have already been taken. For me, it is not uncommon and new that actions have been taken before the Master Plan’s [official approval],” he said.
“For years, we have blindly worked because some investors do not know where they could invest their money to gain profit. After we know, we can invest our money into the right locations. Generally, having the Master Plan makes [it] easier. I think investors are the happiest,” he said.
In response to such a late approval when many of the projects outlined in the document have already been undertaken, Long Dimanche explained, “being late is better than having nothing because it is a document to guide the capital towards sustainable development.”
“It is a bit late due to unfavourable conditions. Thus, we need to have its approval so that we no longer lack guidance,” he said.
However, with scant details, few new projects are outlined in the document.
The document mentions a possible future bridge over the Mekong River, and a water treatment facility in southern Phnom Penh, and further expansion of the railway.
With the plan still leaving Phnom Penh’s future development unclear, rights groups are not relieved by the plan’s approval, citing that vulnerable communities could now be placed at further risk.
“We are more worried because villagers in poor communities have already been victimised before this approval,” said Sia Phearum, director of Housing Rights Task Force.
“If the authority is concentrated too much on economy rather than human rights, housing rights, and poor people, I think it will propably be risky. If the government fully implemented the National Policy on Housing, I think it would be supportive of poor communities,” he said.
Two weeks ago, some villagers had fallen victim to the city’s uncertain development activity once again.
Koeut Sokharany, whose house along O’Bak Touk canal was torn down in Russey Keo district by authorities on 18 January, said that her house was demolished despite her repeated requests to see a clear development plan for the canal.
“We wanted to have clear information on the development at O’ Bak Touk, but the authority rejected our request and accussed us of violating some parts of the canal. Not only did they decline to give us certain information about the development, but the authority also did not listen,” she said.
Despite this, according to Long Dimanche, the approximate 300 poor communities in the capital will decrease as these communities are improved.
With the approval of the master plan, Heang said, “if the shoes don’t fit, do you cut your feet to match the shoes or do you change the shoes to match your feet? We need to find a way to compromise.”