The spread of high-rise buildings and raft of construction sites across Phnom Penh are signs of sustainable development, but city planning experts say more thought needs to be put into where these structures are placed and how high into the sky they reach.
Huge construction projects have been started on the outskirts of the city, but many of them are being developed in the heart of the capital, just a few steps away from heritage landmarks like the Royal Palace, Independence Monument and more.
Chinese private investment firm 4Seasons Construction announced a new 33-storey condominium project slated to be built in the heart of Phnom Penh. The building, on Street 294 and Norodom Boulevard, is only 250 metres from Independence Monument.
According to a press release sent out this week, the condominium project is expected to be finished by the end of 2020.
In 2013, a hotel was forced by City Hall to demolish its building because of its height and location near the Royal Palace.
“For the Royal Palace, there is a 300-metre radius where construction is allowed but it can only be 14 metres tall. Within a radius of 300-500 metres, buildings can only be 12 metres tall,” Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction spokesman Seng Lot said last year.
Dr Van Vat, a city planning specialist, said that when planning for a country’s urbanisation, governments had to be aware of how tall every building was and where it would be erected. In Phnom Penh, there has been an effort to force construction companies to specify the height of the building they’re working on, but the rule is not yet official and is enforced sporadically, he said. Certain areas around the Royal Palace and Independence Monument require legal building permits before construction can begin.
“Previously, City Hall and the MLMUPC used a draft decree to implement [the height rule], but it is not yet formal and widely disseminated to investors and constructions,” he said.
The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has a master plan for each part of the city but currently does not require companies to notify them of the height of their buildings in a stated effort to boost commercial construction projects that modernise tourist areas.
“As we haven’t determined it exactly, some of the constructions are built depending on the gradual requests from specialised ministries and obviously from investors,” Vat said. “For example, the construction is based on the situation and the expertise of the MLMUPC.”
According to sub-decree 86, article 2 on “Building Permits”, all buildings in cities or provincial towns must have construction permits from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Any companies that want to rebuild, expand or overlap existing buildings will also need construction permits.
Vat also cited article 86 of the construction permit sub-decree, which relates to technical regulations, construction requirements and building standards. It was not a problem, he said, for development projects to be done on conservation areas or commercial development areas.
But the latest push for a sub-decree on building height has not been formalised yet to respond to the current development climate in the country, he said, adding that it was imperative for companies to employ skilled architects and builders to pore over building plans to cover for what has been left out of the current rule book.
“As there is no formal announcement, we see high skyscrapers constructed near the river, which is contrary to the specifications of the [rule banning constructions from] 50 metres on the river bank. But some construction has been done there before and after, so the authorities have to be thorough in examining things such as the new Naga World building, restoring scenery behind it and making the air breathable,” he said.
Vat told Post Property that he was personally worried about all of the tall buildings erected near the rivers and canals of the city because they did not respect the layout of the capital and could have severe effects on Phnom Penh’s landscape, beauty and air quality.
“We should try to keep the landscape and the atmosphere in the vicinity of the Royal Palace, because it is a natural area for Cambodia’s city, where tourism is needed and awareness is demanded,” he said.
Despite his criticisms, Vat praised some of the new buildings around Phnom Penh for their design and efforts to preserve green space.
Sorn Seab, director of Key Real Estate, told Post Property that the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction’s most recent sub-decree set parameters for the locations of buildings but did not include specifications on the height of constructions.
He said the government has experience with enforcing construction rules, as they do not allow projects to build within 500 metres of the Royal Palace, Independence Monument and the city’s airport.
“Constructions have to be between 300 metres and 500 metres from those landmarks,” he said.
Seng Lot, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the rules on building location were not yet legalised but were enforced informally. Companies knew not to build near major tourist sites, but Lot said the ministry was working with City Hall and stakeholders in the sector to formalise construction rules.
He did not respond to questions about height restrictions for construction projects.