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Northbridge halts $94m estate plan

Northbridge halts $94m estate plan

NORTHBRIDGE Communities Ltd, the Bangkok-based builder of up-market expatriate compounds

over Asia, has postponed phase one of its $94 million Phnom Penh estate due to the

uncertainty of Cambodian politics.

"Political stability is a major concern of investors," said Khaou Phallaboth,

executive director of Khaou Chuly, the Cambodian firm which has a ten per cent stake

in the joint venture.

The expected completion of a section of the International School Cambodia (ISC) -

the keystone of a five-year endeavor to accommodate Westerners - has been delayed

by a year until August 1998, because international financiers see Cambodia as a "high-risk"

country, said Phallaboth.

They would wait until after the 1998 election to decide whether to go through with

the rest of the project.

"We are taking risks, but we are entrepreneurs," he said.

"We believe in the future of Cambodia."

If it is completed in 2001, Northbridge Estates Phnom Penh, six kms west of Phnom

Penh, will cater to the housing, medical, recreational and shopping demands of 3000

projected residents.

But Marshall Perry, an American businessman who has worked overseas for 20 years

and seen similar projects, likened them to "rich men's ghettos which are 90

percent inhabited by expats."

The complex features the school, a hospital, office park, sports center, mini-shopping

mall, 24-hour electronic and manned surveillance and a rollerblade track.

"When completed," a promotional brochure says, "Northbridge Estates

will be a highly visible example of Cambodia's forward looking economy, and will

be a key to transforming Phnom Penh into a vibrant and modern city, ready to assume

a leading role in the continued dynamic economic development of Asia.... the community

will be universally perceived as a well-planned, permanently attractive area in Phnom

Penh, and a showpiece community in Southeast Asia."

But observers question whether this multi-million dollar attempt to lure foreign

investors and their families to Cambodia is a healthy concept for the country.

Although he welcomed the project as a way to attract foreign capital to spur economic

growth, Pen Dareth, vice-president of the Center for Advanced Study (CAS), said it

was important the fruits of the project be enjoyed by the Cambodian community-at-large.

"It seems to me that these rich people will be cutting themselves off from our

society," he cautioned. "If you do not open yourself up to another society

or integrate with it, you cannot exist within it."

Others who are combating urban poverty say Cambodian leaders should be as concerned

about solving the housing problems of Phnom Penh's 20,000 squatter families as they

are about solving the housing problems of a foreign elite.

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