River promenade study team battles to win over sceptics
Team hopes to clear the air over the controversial project, writes Supoj Wancharoen
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.