In the past decade, Phnom Penh has undergone rapid development with increasing urban population and foreign investments. Meanwhile, the city’s landscape has been affected by a massive demand for land and real estate, as many lakes and natural reservoirs in the city and suburbs have been filled in, or partially filled in, to make way for new development. These range from residential areas and satellite cities to commercial and recreation centres. And now, it looks like the city is going to lose yet another big lake despite the disagreement from people.
Last month, Chip Mong Land, the new owner and developer of Grand Phnom Penh International Satellite City in Sen Sok district announced that they would fill up a large lake in the neighbourhood to turn it into a park. Before Chip Mong Land bought the area in 2019, Grand Phnom Penh was owned by YLP Co Ltd, and the lake, 423 metres in length and 245 metres wide, had been created by the previous landowners as a waterway for a golf course.
This new decision to fill the lake has however, triggered disapproval from 140 residents who have claimed that this lake is a very important feature that keeps the place serene and as part of a green lung for the community. A representative of Grand Phnom Penh residents said this very lake is the main reason they bought houses in the gated community since 2007 from YLP Group Co Ltd and it was also used in advertisements and marketing tools to attract buyers.
The residents said when they bought their houses years ago, the lake was shown in the master plan, but now under the new master plan, more properties will be built and the entire ambience will be destroyed.
Kao Sophal, a resident, said he had paid over $800,000 for a king-size villa in Grand Phnom Penh because he loved the original landscape in this satellite city.
“The price was alright, but it included the quality of the landscape, which had everything around the house, and the lake is included,” he said. “Without this beautiful surrounding, the house is just like any house everywhere else, a concrete jungle.”
To protest against this act, the residents hung out banners in front of their houses asking the developer to reverse the decision.
“Please protect the lake for the good of the environment and beauty of this borey,” read one of the banners.”
“The new developer has to follow the master plan established by YLP Co Ltd and Ciputra,” read another, referring to the previous owners and developers of the satellite city.”
They also submitted letters of protest to Chip Mong and the Ministry of Land Management, and met representatives of Chip Mong for a discussion. Yet, the meeting produced no amicable result and the company is still going on with filling the lake.
According to Chip Mong Land, the land and the lake now belong to the company and have been clearly stated as being “construction land”. It said the previous owners also confirmed that the lake was a site that had been excavated to create a waterway for the golf course.
In its statement, the company said it has examined the residents’ contract with the original owners and found nothing that states that the lake could not be modified for future development. The claim made by the 140 residents, it added, is based on the master plan which was advertised on the flyers printed and distributed by the previous owners in order to sell the properties, without any legal document.
“Standing on legal ownership which the company (Chip Mong Land) has rightfully acquired, the company reserves the right to put its business plan into action strategically, as a real estate developer with a good reputation,” it said.
The company added that to enhance the beauty of the area, the company is committed to transforming the lake into a central park with lots of trees, a gymnasium, children’s play area and recreation area.
In the meantime, Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng has rejected a request from 140 residents in Grand Phnom Penh International Satellite City to stop Chip Mong Land from filling up the lake.
Sreng sent a letter to the 140 residents saying that after receiving the written request from the residents, City Hall officials went to examine the area.
“The officials found that the pond is on private land legally owned by Chip Mong Land which bought it from YLP Group, so the authorities cannot intervene in the case,” he said.
Nevertheless the residents have claimed filling up the lake in Grand Phnom Penh International Satellite City will violate several articles in Sub-decree No. 39 on Property Developer Management, issued and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 10, 2011 and the Prakas on the Real Estate Development Business issued and signed by the Minister of Economy and Finance dated January 20, 2020.
Article 7 in Sub-decree No. 39 states that borey developers, before requesting for approval on the overall plan of the borey, shall consult with relevant authorities to reach prior agreement in order to ensure compliance with general land use regulations or land use plan, if any, and they may not change the overall plan of the borey which is already officially approved by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, without permission from the Ministry.
Meanwhile, Article 9 of the sub-decree says: “Public space, garden, entry-exit way, common service space and walls of boreys shall be registered as indivisible ownership of the co-owners in the borey for common use by all owners except for private spaces or private gardens which form parts of separate private lots, residential lots, and other construction land in accordance with the officially approved overall plan of the borey.”
Also, Point B of Article 12 reveals that any decision related to the modification of the plan shall require 75 percent majority votes of all owners, meaning that the company cannot make the decision per se unilaterally.
In addition, the Prakas on the Real Estate Development Business, in Article 20, says that, “the advertisement of a real estate development project, which is fraudulent, not in good faith, deceptive by promises of gifts and impressions that are attractive but not given as promised, misleads or harms the public interest, is strictly prohibited.”
The lake has also been specifically marked as “to be preserved” in Sub-decree 181 of the Phnom Penh Land Use Master Plan for 2035, dated December 23, 2015.
Last year, Samahkum Teang Thnaut (STT), a local group supporting urban poor communities, published a 16-page research report which provided information and data update on the lakes and wetland areas in Phnom Penh.
Titled “The Last Lakes”, the findings are based on various research methods, ranging from questionnaires and desk reviews to mapping and impact assessments.
The study claims that as of 2019, 16 out of 25 lakes in Phnom Penh were filled-in while the rest have been partially filled. In addition, Phnom Penh witnessed the loss of 40 percent of its wetlands area.
Issac Daniels, the American-Australian advocacy advisor and researcher for Samahkum Teang Thnaut who wrote the report, says this will not only make the city hotter and less beautiful but also leads to heavy flooding in the city, something which is happening now.