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Further Reading:

Planning Approval Limitations

A Belgian gentleman considering building a small guest house on the hills above Patong Beach had heard that there might be some building permit problems that would not allow him to build on the hills - and asked me for an explanation.

It was not so long ago, that building permits for construction in the rural parts of Phuket (which recent residents might be surprised to hear, then included Patong) were not formally required for new construction or renovations. By convention, you had a chat with your local Poo Yai Baan (village chief) to explain your plans and did not break the unwritten rule that a building should not be taller than the coconut trees and all would be well.

Commencing in the mid 1980's written rules and regulations controlling the size, height and structure (but not the aesthetics) of new building construction in the rural parts of Phuket (the Phuket town area had had building controls for much longer) started to be brought into effect. The regulations were first introduced in Patong and over the following years similar regulations were also introduced to Karon and Kata, Kamala, Bang-Tao and most of the other coastal and rural areas of Phuket.

These new local regulations, which while generally more restrictive as to allowable height and density the closer that you got to the sea, were often significantly different in detail in each beach area and resulted in much confusion. In the early 1990's an island wide planing committee was established to try to standardize these rules both to simplify their implementation and enforcement and also to better protect the islands natural environment. After several extensions in the date set for their publication they were eventually ratified and brought into effect in October 1997.

The earlier principles of increasingly limiting building height and density the nearer you were to the sea was maintained and extended by a widely anticipated new provision that no construction could take place in the first 20 meters from the high tide line. But the new regulations also included a widely unexpected new rule - which may well be the issue that effects your hillside guest house plans - which specifically prevents any construction of any type on land that is more than 80 meters above sea level.

A quick glance around this mountainous island will make it very apparent that this (over 80 meter) zone includes a huge proportion of the islands total land stock - impacts many landowners - and has consequently and un surprisingly resulted in huge public outcry.

Well intentioned as the legislators of this provision (presumably intended to protect the islands green wooded appearance) may have been they seem to have overlooked that a) the action of effectively depriving people of the right to develop their land without due compensation was unconstitutional and b) that to take all the development value out of land would only encourage deforestation for timber and or excavation for land fill as the only remaining way to get a quick commercial return from the property which might have been much better preserved by a low density development by an environmentally concerned owner.

It has now been generally recognized that a more constitutionally fair and also pragmatic solution for the preservation of the wooded hillsides (as the one already employed on seaside land - restrictive height and density controls) would be to allow limited and controlled quality development in these hillside zones

Making a change in the current regulations in the short term is near to impossible, but the current building codes are only valid for 5 years and subject to review and possible amendment in October 2002. It now seems increasingly likely that amendments will be made - and indeed we are already seeing a softening in the attitude of the planing officials (who still have some scope for interpretation of the codes) to private landowners who want to develop a house for personal residential use on their hillside land. However with a guest house of any type of commercial venture on hillside land over 80 meters, it is very unlikely that you would get an approval if you are above the 80 meter contour, and you are just going to have to wait and see what the future holds.