As questions still surround Phnom Penh’s belated Master Plan approval – termed Phnom Penh Land Use for 2035 – many people, including citizens, private developers, and even local district and commune authorities, are left wanting to know more details on the city’s concrete development plans for the future. Long Dimanche, spokesperson for City Hall, spoke with Post Property ‘s Dit Sokthy and Kali Kotoski and revealed more information on what to expect of Phnom Penh Land Use 2035, especially in terms of land zonings, and dealing with a growing population.
Why was the Master Plan extended to 2035?
The initial plan was prepared for 2020, but it has now been extended to 2035 because of various updates, and also because the document had yet to be approved by the government since 2005. The city is developing at a rapid pace, with a growing population as well as an influx of foreigners. Due to such rapid development, the city faces many problems, especially traffic issues because of the lack of public transport. It is not only a document, but also a commitment to the city by the government.
What has been updated from the 2020 version, dubbed White Book?
As mentioned, the document has been in the works since 2005, but it had not been approved up until now because it has been continually updated according to the daily challenges faced by the city. For example, the 2020 Master Plan stated that a canal’s reserved space on each side must be 30 metres wide, yet the canal from the city centre to Kob Srov dike was occupied by residents by an extra 10 metres, leaving the canal’s reserved side spaces to only 20 metres wide now. This is just one example of a problem, so we needed to update the plan, and only then did the government adopt it.
Are there plans to translate the Master Plan 2035 for foreign investors?
It is not a secret file and it will be published in English as well. In fact, the governor has approved the plan to build a public library in our new building where the Master Plan will be placed in, so anyone can come and study the document there.
The 35-page summary of the Master Plan 2035 underlined certain projects that have already been completed or are underway. Were there any guidelines on how to build the city in the last ten years?
Since the introduction of the unofficial Master Plan in 2005, we used that as a framework to renovate canals, and build roads and flyovers. Before any sort of master plan came about, people were already living on the streets and occupied any land they could. To solve traffic congestions now, we need to build many new roads but the ones outlined in the Master Plan 2035 are already occupied by people, which poses a great challenge. That is why a lot of our roads have to wind around private property.
Why did it take such a long time to be approved?
Because of the challenges that we continue to face in terms of urbanisation, and if we want a smooth implementation of the Master Plan, we have to properly educate the public, which is why we engage assistance from French urbanisation experts. We have to ensure that district and commune authorities fully comprehend this, as only then can they also educate the people.
Which sector is the Master Plan most invested in improving?
Most of the public investment undertaken by the city is in infrastructure. For wastewater treatment plants, we are allowing private investors to head it due to the government’s limited capacity. Currently, we are reserving our resources to develop and solve problems that we have prioritised. We welcome investment from private companies. For example, they want to develop a wastewater treatment plant in the southern area of Boeung Choeung Ek Lake, so we let them do it. Recently, the governor reserved 500 hectares of land at the Kob Srov dike in northern Phnom Penh for water treatment, before the wastewater is released into the lakes and river.
How have the needs of poor communities been addressed?
We have to be flexible and think about our people instead of just implementing hard regulations. One mission of City Hall is to educate people and make them understand how important land zoning is, especially when it comes to private land.
Are local and foreign investors aware of the Master Plan?
Some investors knew about the Master Plan and understand its basics, and that is why they developed based on the rough framework. For example, urbanisation experts and architects say that housing development should be on the northern and southern sides of Phnom Penh. In the north, housing developments such as Camko City and Borey Piphum Thmey have been built. In the south, ING City is being built around the Boeung Choeung Ek lake with main roads under construction leading into the area.
Meanwhile, industrial zones are concentrated in the western part of the city. With the Master Plan, we now have a better understanding of how the city will develop in specific areas.
How has land titling, communes, and districts been managed?
There are a lot of challenges in the issue of land titling. We are presently using a system created by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction – previously with the World Bank’s guidance – to register and issue land titles through a database in the computer thus making the issue more transparent and efficient. We have more regulations underway to promote this to the district and commune levels. If they do not understand it, they would allow people to live on the land because of political reasons, such as getting people to vote for them if they are promised certain areas.
Are there any plans to set up new communes or districts ahead of the commune elections?
Phnom Penh currently has 96 communes and 12 districts, but we are planning to increase the number of communes to 105 in order to spread the populations in each commune evenly. The authority of the commune chief – leadership, public service, security maintenance – is very limited. What is most important is maintaining security even with a limited capacity, and this is an issue that we are also focusing on in the Master Plan.
Some political parties would say that redistricting is more about politics and blame us for that. In a political view they may see it like this. But for City Hall, our main concern is public services.