Developers fight Phuket height ban

DEVELOPERS are trying to overturn a ban on high-rise buildings on the resort island of Phuket, amid fears of a nationwide environmental backlash against the property sector.

The prohibition, implemented last November, limits building heights in Thailand's most popular tourist spot to 12 metres in a bid to protect the deteriorating coastal ecology.

Tourism executives included the resorts in a major industry development plan that recommends developers be pressured to contribute more to preserving the environment.

Hotels are cited as the main cause of beach pollution, from their failure to install waste-water and sewage treatment facilities.

But local authorities claim the restrictions are killing off the property industry, and prompting hotel developers to take their business elsewhere.

''In its present form, this rule is too strict and impractical. We are not asking for it to be lifted entirely, but we do want amendments to help the property sector,'' said the Phuket Governor, Dr Yuwath Vuthimedhi.

At least a dozen high-rise projects, mostly hotels and condominiums, have been delayed by the ban, which is being reconsidered by the central government but has strong backing at national level.

The measures replaced milder restrictions which have been in place for several years but critics say were never strictly enforced.

These limited building heights to six metres on beach fronts and 12 metres on the foreshores but left unrestricted development within about 500 metres of the shore line.

The development restrictions, which are similar to regulations enforced in the resort town of Pattaya, prevent any industrial activities defined as environmentally harmful.

Business leaders in Phuket, who say they stand to lose millions of dollars in property values, want the development ban to apply only within 300 metres of beaches.

The environmental lobby counters that developers have shown they cannot be trusted to self-regulate the hotel sector. Only about 30 of the 200 hotels on Phuket have voluntarily introduced waste-water treatment plants and fewer treat sewage before it isdischarged into the sea.

Hotels are also blamed for a worsening water shortage from the drain on depleted public reservoirs by the huge resort projects and looming energy shortages.

The campaign against developers has raised fears of a domino effect through the property sector, which is already struggling from over-supply, particularly in the condominium market.

Rural members of parliament have also sponsored a bill that, if adopted, will entitle local people to decide on the nature and progress of development in their region.

The bill is aimed at returning control of natural resources to the people who immediately depend on them, after claims that developers from Bangkok are destroying their lifestyles.

Property firms in Bangkok are already responding to the environmental challenge with ''green'' programmes of their own, which emphasise the importance of open space and clean surroundings in projects.

''There is a trend for developers to incorporate larger open spaces into a condominium project and add more greenery to create a feeling that one is not living in a box,'' said Ms Narudee Kiengsiri of developers Tararom.