City Halts New Construction at Stadium Site

The city of Phnom Penh has halted new construction on the Olympic Stadium project, saying the developers are building without permits and damaging the city’s drainage system.

At the site, huge mounds of dirt sit next to vegetation-clogged drainage ponds, while around the periphery cement foundations have been poured for what looks like dozens of new shop stalls.

“It is illegal,” said Chev Kim Heng, deputy governor of Phnom Penh. “There is no permission at all. There is no construction plan at all. The construction is damaging the drainage system and the city’s beauty.”

Officials of the Taiwan-based Yuan Ta Group said they will com­­ply with the order, but de­clined to discuss the status of the project. “I am not the big boss, so I cannot answer these quest­ions,” said Heng Kien, dep­uty project manager. He said work will continue on renovations to the stadium itself.

The project has been controversial since its inception, with critics saying plans for a massive complex of hotels, office buildings, shopping centers and parking garages squanders one of Phnom Penh’s few remaining green spaces. It has also shut down the city’s major recreational complex for nearly two years, forcing thousands to find other places to play tennis, swim, jog or play basketball and football.

In May of 2000, Yuan Ta paid the government $3.6 million and agreed to rehabilitate the dilapidated stadium in return for permission to develop the surrounding parklands into a $40 million hotel, office and retail complex.

The contract required Yuan Ta to complete the stadium renovation before proceeding with the re­tail project. The entire project was to have taken five years.

But the project got off to a slow start and by February 2001 ap­peared to have bogged down completely. Phnom Penh Gov­er­nor Chea Sophara urged the government to revoke the contract, saying Yuan Ta had “done nothing.” The contract specified that the stadium renovation be completed by November 2001; last August, company officials pushed it back until the end of 2002. During the past year, work has proceeded in fits and starts, with workers complaining of problems getting paid.

A few weeks ago, Yuan Ta asked the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth for permission to erect a fence around the peri­meter. City officials say that when they went to inspect the fence, they found construction had be­gun on retail units at the very edge of the property line.

“The company did not seek permission from the Ministry of Construction for this plan, nor is there permission from the city’s department of drainage,” Chev Kim Heng said.

The issue is critical as the rainy season begins, he said.

The drainage ponds absorb runoff from a large, densely populated area.

 

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