Pressure for green plan for SRT's Makkasan land
Governor says 500-rai complex will have public park, but state railway cannot ignore its commercial interests
Prapat Chongsanguan, governor of State Railways of Thailand, is facing growing demand from environmentalists to adopt a greener development concept for one of its massive land plots in the heart of Bangkok.
The governor says the terms of reference for developing the 500-rai Makkasan Complex scheme will be announced in the next few months pending approval by the SRT board of directors and Cabinet.
The investment outlay is estimated to be Bt200-300 billion.
"In fact, the Makkasan Complex includes a public park as suggested by pro-environmental groups, but critics have to understand that SRT as a state enterprise has a huge financial burden [so we need to develop the place commercially to boost our income]."
"As a public service organisation, SRT has been losing money from providing free train services to low-income passengers. Of the current 260-plus train services, only 70 carry fare-paying passengers. The rest are free of charge in accordance with the government's policy."
"Regarding the Makkasan Complex, SRT will invite bids from interested Thai and foreign investors and award a comprehensive concession to the successful bidder. I expect to turn this vast land plot into a new Bangkok landmark where people can use the facilities for important events to be seen around the world.
"At present, there is the CentralWorld nearby, but the place will be smaller than what we have in mind for the Makkasan Complex which, when operational, should be used for New Year's countdown and Songkran water festival among other major events.
"The public park will be part of the development under a 30-year concession, plus another 30-year extension. Overall, we plan to use 100 rai of the plot for building new roads around the congested Makkasan area, plus an area for the expressway entry and exit.
"As a result, only 300 rai will be left for commercial development and we expect to designate 15-20 per cent of these 300 rai as a public park or green areas."
Pongprom Yamarat, a leader of the "Big Trees" environmental protection group, says: "Our main point is the sustainable development of Bangkok. The public should play a key role in shaping the scheme so that it serves the interests of the country in the context of regional [Asean], national and city levels."
"The SRT governor has mentioned the scheme as a new Bangkok landmark with a focus on Thainess. Generally, developers mean a new exhibition centre, a hotel, or new shopping or retail centre etc, but I think there should be something innovative and knowledge-based such as a botanical garden to rival that of Singapore.
"Here, in Thailand, we have a vast biological diversity which can be turned into a national asset via investment in a modern botanical garden [which can also become a new tourist attraction]. This kind of innovative scheme will also expand our knowledge-based national development via related projects concerning our universities.
"At the city level, we understand that it may not be feasible to turn the entire land plot into a public park, but SRT can still do a lot to boost the significance of the place for the benefits of residents of Makkasan and other nearby areas.
"At least a certain portion of the 500 rai must be devoted to green areas to help reduce air pollution in this congested part of Bangkok. Secondly, there are some historical buildings in the area that should be conserved for future generations via the opening of a museum or an exhibition hall."
Supin Meechucheep, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle (Thailand), says: "I think the Makkasan Complex scheme has the potential to serve the purpose of developing Bangkok as a business gateway to the Asean Economic Community."
"In the event that the SRT prefers to award a single comprehensive concession to the successful bidder for developing the area, that will be a big challenge as earlier the idea was to develop Makkasan Complex in various phrases.
"In Thailand, developers and investors tend to specialise in different segments of the real-estate market such as hotels, commercial or retail centres, office buildings or condos or exhibition centre."