River prom­e­nade study team bat­tles to win over scep­tics

Team hopes to clear the air over the con­tro­ver­sial project, writes Supoj Wancharoen

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lad­kra­bang (KMITL) and Khon Kaen Univer­sity (KKU) are now in the spot­light since the two in­sti­tutes agreed to con­duct a joint fea­si­bil­ity study for City Hall’s Chao Phraya river­side prom­e­nade project.

The two uni­ver­si­ties have been hired by the Bangkok Metropoli­tan Ad­min­is­tra­tion (BMA) to con­duct a fea­si­bil­ity study for a 57km prom­e­nade along both banks of the Chao Phraya River, start­ing from Rama VII Bridge to Bangkok’s out­skirts.

The scheme has been coined the “Chao Phraya for All” project.

It in­cludes the con­tro­ver­sial pi­lot sec­tion, the New Land­mark of Thai­land, which stretches for 7km be­tween the Rama VII and Pin­klao bridges — a to­tal of 14km when both banks are taken into ac­count.

But, not ev­ery­one sup­ports the project.

Aca­demics, cul­tural ac­tivists and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists op­pose the idea; the Friends of River (FOR) group has also voiced op­po­si­tion to the scheme.

FOR has un­der­taken sev­eral ac­tiv­i­ties to re­store river­side ar­eas. The group’s mis­sion also in­cludes rais­ing aware­ness about the im­por­tance of rivers.

To en­sure the study is trans­par­ent, FOR leader Yos­s­apon Boon­som is call­ing on both in­sti­tu­tions to re­veal the names of the team mem­bers re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing it out.

Mr Yos­s­apon said the pub­lic had the right to know whether team mem­bers were qual­i­fied to do the job and whether they have the re­quired li­cences to un­der­take par­tic­u­lar work.

The group is also de­mand­ing the in­sti­tu­tions dis­close de­tails of work­ing plans, the study’s timeline and when pub­lic hear­ings will take place.

FOR also de­manded that ev­ery­one in­volved in the study must en­sure ev­ery step taken will not ad­versely af­fect peo­ple or the en­vi­ron­ment.

The group is also call­ing on the uni­ver­si­ties to put more ef­fort into work­ing with mem­bers of the pub­lic, es­pe­cially those who will be af­fected by the prom­e­nade by al­low­ing them to voice their con­cerns.

Mr Yos­s­apon also urged the study team to ad­mit it “wrongly ac­cused” mem­bers of the pub­lic — in­clud­ing his group — of pro­vid­ing “mis­lead­ing” in­for­ma­tion about the project.

He was re­fer­ring to a graphic show­ing the Chao Phraya River with a red line rep­re­sent­ing the sup­posed route of the prom­e­nade, which went vi­ral on the in­ter­net. The graphic, based on in­for­ma­tion gleaned from cabi­net meet­ings be­tween Dec 4 and 15, 2014 was cre­ated by mem­bers of the pub­lic op­pos­ing the project, who feared it would de­stroy peo­ple’s liveli­hoods and the cul­tural land­scape along the river.

“We did not make the in­for­ma­tion up; the graphic was based on of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion [from the cabi­net meet­ings],” ex­plained Mr Yos­s­apon, say­ing his group was ac­cused of dis­tribut­ing “mis­lead­ing” in­for­ma­tion and claim­ing the river­side prom­e­nade would be an eye­sore.

An­other cabi­net meet­ing on May 12 last year re­vealed the es­ti­mated cost of the prom­e­nade will be 14 bil­lion baht, he added. FOR fears the seven-month study will be rushed, and points to a 2km river­side cor­ri­dor project ap­proved by the BMA that took more than eight months to com­plete.

Mean­while, An­tika Sawad­sri, a spokes­woman for the Chao Phraya for All study team and an ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor at KMITL, tried to al­lay op­po­nents’ con­cerns at a meet­ing ear­lier this month, say­ing the prom­e­nade’s de­sign and the 14-bil­lion­baht bud­get have not yet been fi­nalised.

A three-me­tre wall and an ex­press­way­like road to be built along the river wasn’t men­tioned in the con­tract with the uni­ver­si­ties. She in­sisted KMITL and KKU had been con­tracted by the BMA to sim­ply carry out a fea­si­bil­ity study and in­spect com­mu­ni­ties that would be af­fected by the project.

Prof An­tika said study team mem­bers al­ready sent to work with res­i­dents in com­mu­ni­ties found many of them had re­ceived “mis­lead­ing” in­for­ma­tion about the prom­e­nade.

To cor­rect mis­un­der­stand­ings, the team is work­ing hard to pro­vide com­mu­ni­ties with up-to-date in­for­ma­tion and to en­sure its study is com­pleted within the set time frame.

The pi­lot sec­tion will cover four dis­tricts; Bang Sue, Phra Nakhon, Bang Ph­lat and Dusit which will in­volve about 30 com­mu­ni­ties. A to­tal of 180 ses­sions to pro­vide the pub­lic with in­for­ma­tion will be held — six ses­sions for each com­mu­nity, Prof An­tika said.

The ul­ti­mate goal of the project is equal ac­cess, Prof An­tika said, say­ing her team is striv­ing to make the prom­e­nade ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­one, as sug­gested by its name Chao Phraya for All.

It is en­vis­aged the prom­e­nade will have fa­cil­i­ties spe­cially de­signed for the el­derly and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, she added.

“On top of that, we will con­tinue work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties,” Prof An­tika said, claim­ing about 80% of res­i­dents liv­ing near the river had learned about and un­der­stood the project’s aims.

Un­der the deal with the uni­ver­si­ties, deputy city clerk Pi­rapong Saichua said, the KMITL and KKU are re­spon­si­ble for com­ing up with a master plan for the de­vel­op­ment of the river­side cor­ri­dor, con­duct­ing project de­sign work and pro­duc­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment (EIA).

They have also con­ducted in­for­ma­tion ses­sions and pro­moted the project, par­tic­u­larly among peo­ple who will be af­fected by the scheme.

They have held ac­tiv­i­ties to pro­mote pub­lic in­volve­ment, Dr Pi­rapong added.

Con­struc­tion of the first sec­tion of the prom­e­nade is ex­pected to be­gin next year, once the study is com­pleted, Dr Pi­rapong said, adding con­struc­tion would take about 18 months.

Mean­while, Sakul Ho­van­o­tayan, from KMITL’s Fac­ulty of Engi­neer­ing, said the timeline for the fea­si­bil­ity study was al­ready set to en­sure it would be com­pleted on time in re­sponse to re­quests from the FOR group.

The first in­for­ma­tion ses­sion was con­ducted this week at SD Av­enue Ho­tel. The orig­i­nal April dead­line for the pre­lim­i­nary draw­ings of a 14km walk­way and bike lane has been post­poned to June, while ini­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­am­i­na­tion re­ports on im­pacts on hy­dro­log­i­cal and flood pro­tec­tion sys­tems along the whole 57km stretch of the river will be com­pleted by July.

Prof Sakul said Septem­ber would be the busiest month for his team as it must com­plete con­cep­tual de­sign draw­ings for the 57km strips.

In the same month, his team will pre­pare re­ports on the de­vel­op­ment of a master plan for river­side cor­ri­dor im­prove­ments and an EIA to sub­mit to City Hall for con­sid­er­a­tion.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ‘CHAO PHRAYA FOR ALL’ PROJECT

Study team mem­bers from King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lad­kra­bang and Khon Kaen Univer­sity visit com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about the river­side prom­e­nade.

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