Urban and spatial planning has long been difficult to achieve in Cambodia due to the government’s lack of a proper framework to integrate policies needed to handle the growth of rural and urban populations.
While the Phnom Penh Master Plan 2035 has supposedly been approved, after over a decade of work by local stakeholders with the support of international non-governmental organizations, the Battambang Land Use Master Plan 2030 was among the first plans to be adopted by the National Committee for Land Management and Urban Planning (NCLMUP) early last year.
Thomas Hänert, land management advisor to GIZ – the German agency that helped fund and develop the plan – said that the plan had been in the works since 2003. However, without a legal framework in place to initiate such a plan, it was not until a 2011 national spatial planning policy was adopted, and by Royal decree, that the NCLMUP was formed to validate an urban land use policy.
After another four years of analysis, the Battambang master plan was officially acknowledged.
“Spatial plans are needed to guide a sustainable territorial development [while] integrating the various competing demands [for] land,” Hänert said, adding that these types of plans are in dire need when factoring in rapid urbanisation and dynamic change.
“An approved plan also increases accountability of the local government, as it provides a clear message of what is envisaged for a town, district or province,” he said.
According to Walter Koditek, an urban development expert who participated in the drafting of the plan, the plan does not only satisfy the future infrastructure for the city, but it also demarcates 14 different zoning criteria that include residential, commercial and public space.
The plan is buoyed by a statistical analysis of a projected annual growth of 2.5 per cent. With additional cooperation from a technical assistance team that led to an Asian Development Bank-financed sewage, drainage and wastewater treatment plant, the plan also focused on green sustainability.
“We developed a ‘green system’ for the city and its surroundings, which has to a significant extent already been implemented,” he said, adding that with a new public garden along the river, some 16,000 trees are being planted.
However, prior to the official adoption of the plan, Koditek believes that some awareness campaigns did prevent “at least some of the irreversible mistakes” that come with modernisation.
While the plan itself had determined areas to protect the old city centre between National Roads 1 and 3, those areas could not be significantly regulated to preserve some of Battambang’s architectural heritage.
Although the master land use plan will be a guideline for making local policy decisions, Koditek believes that preserving the architectural legacy may be difficult, until full national building regulations are adopted.
“In my opinion, UNESCO will definitely be needed to develop a safeguards [or] management plan for the heritage area, otherwise there will not be enough capacity and also not enough ownership to make this a success,” he said.
Hänert said that GIZ is currently advising the municipality about incorporating building regulations to complement the land use master plan.
Nevertheless, the land use master plan and the decade-long pursuit towards ratification have “influenced ongoing planning processes in various provinces, districts and cities, most notably in Battambang province itself where spatial planning capacities on the provincial level are outstanding in the Cambodian context,” he said.