Infrastructure is the key to Phnom Penh’s orderly expansion and long-term growth, but the government has not made its master plan available to developers, which has resulted in haphazard planning that has left many parts of the capital without adequate roads, water or electricity, experts say.
The government has approved a master plan for Phnom Penh’s development through 2035, but the original 330-page document, and the 2005-2020 master plan it builds upon, have never been released to the public. This has left many developers in the dark about the capital’s planning provisions, and resulted in poorly planned and often inadequate infrastructure.
Kim Heang, president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA), said rumours about the contents of Phnom Penh’s master plan have been circulating for years, but until now the original document has never been officially released.
“I think the reason for the procrastination could be that authorities need more time to update and fine tune [the master plan] in order to put it in sync with Phnom Penh’s growth,” he suggested.
Heang said the advantage of a master plan is that it makes it easier for developers to visualise future areas of growth because it earmarks certain zones for certain types of development.
“Development without a master plan is like reaching for fish in a lake at random,” he said.
Vann Vat, an urban planning expert, explained that in developed countries a master plan provides an authoritative reference on zoning and infrastructure that developers can use as guidance before drawing up blueprints for their projects or signing contracts. He said strict adherence to the master plan ensures that fast-growing cities develop in an orderly fashion.
“Road expansion and the organising of infrastructure should be done in accordance with the master plan, and the implementation itself should abide by all laws and be fully transparent,” he said.
Short on funds, the government has relied on the private sector to establish many of the Phnom Penh’s infrastructure projects, such as small roads, sewage systems and electricity networks. Yet without coordinated planning the city has become a patchwork of rival business districts, traffic choke points and non-intersecting sewage lines.
Moreover, even where zoning and usage is clearly delineated, regulations are poorly or inconsistently enforced. Vat noted, for example, that throughout the capital residents and shops routinely encroach upon sidewalks, building shop stalls or extending the gates of their homes, despite clear regulations prohibiting these constructions.
CVEA’s Heang said it was important that development follows the master plan. If the plan, for instance, allocates an area as an industrial zone then only industrial projects should be constructed there.
“Construction projects should be fined or demolished if they violate the master plan,” he said.
However, in the absence of a city-level master plan, private developers have been left to design projects as islands, with scant details on how the rest of the capital is being developed. They must also fund and build infrastructure without necessarily knowing how it all connects.
Ly Hour, president of the Housing Development Association of Cambodia, explained that developers are responsible for creating a master plan for their residential projects and building the infrastructure, though the government must sign off on road construction.
“There is no government assistance for developing water and electricity networks in residential projects, except in the case of affordable housing,” he said.
Sear Rithy, chairman of WorldBridge Land, which is developing an affordable housing project in Kandal province, confirms this. However, he said that while the government takes responsibility for developing the water and electricity systems in affordable housing projects, the private developer must still build the roads.
“Normally, we propose a plan to the ministry and they decide whether or not to green light it,” he said.
Seng Lot, a spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, did not respond to calls this week.