Ahead of World Environment Day on June 5, we look at the threat posed by overdevelopment on the green lungs of Bangkok

The Bang Krachao peninsula of Samut Prakan, often referred to as Bangkok’s green lungs, sits just across the Chao Phraya River from Klong Toey. The 3,089 square kilometers of lush greenery has long supplied clean air for the capital and was established as a protected conservation area back in 1992. Bang Krachao has since become a popular urban retreat, especially among bicycle-loving Bangkokians, but given its location—safe from potential flooding and close to downtown Bangkok—it’s also considered one of the city’s most valuable assets in the eyes of property developers.

The Issue

A new Samut Prakan city plan, which was officially enacted on Feb 5 and allows for more construction, raises concerns over the potential threat from overdevelopment. Question marks linger over the legitimacy of the re-drafting process, which locals claim was carried out without their consultation and may leave room for developers to take advantage of amibguity in the new regulations.
The major amendment to the plan concerns two land categories: the Green zone (see map), which is a protected conservation area, and the Green-White zone (the vast majority of the island), which is a rural and agricultural area. Regarding the Green zone, the previous plan enacted back in 2005 stipulated that buildings had to be limited to 10 percent of the whole area and that landowners were not allowed to sell their land. Under the new plan, however, landowners are allowed to sell their land (which could mean selling it to a developer). 
Regarding the Green-White zone, under the old plan, not more than 5 percent of the zone was allowed for “other purposes” (aside from growing crops) and while buildings could be constructed, they cannot be over 200 square meters in size. The constructible zone has now been extended to 15 percent, though.

What the Activists Say

In May, The Big Trees Project and local residents held a bike ride and a discussion panel in Bang Krachao to raise awareness of the issue. Manas Russameetat, a local resident and member of Samut Prakan Provincial Administrative Organization, said the new city plan was drafted in a suspicious way and contains many ambiguous terms.
“I was asked to a meeting only once, when they called me in to say they would be releasing a new city plan. And then the province just released the new law without our review. The plan also allows for an additional 10 percent of the land in the Green-White zones to be developed for ‘other purposes,’ but doesn’t clarify what these other purposes are,” says Manas.
Manas also points out examples of the previous White-Green areas in other city plans like those in Ramintra, Bhuddhamonthon Soi 2 and Klong Sam Wa areas, which are now occupied by housing developments. The Big Trees Project is urging the public to unite to file a lawsuit for the administrative court to curtail the new plan.

What the City Planners Say

The Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning of Samut Prakan states the changes to the Green Zone are to support a sustainable community model, allowing locals to build homes and small businesses, and to actually alleviate their need to sell land to investors and move out. Meanwhile, the changes to the Green-White zone have been made because, in effect, the old law had already been broken: already over 10 percent of the land has been used for other purposes and capping it at 5 percent would automatically prohibit locals from building any houses.
Contact the Big Trees Project at www.facebook.com/BIGTreesProject or BigTreesProject@gmail.com