Despite numerous petitions submitted by business owners and house owners along Norzin Lam, and the former Cabinet and present Cabinet disapproving Thimphu Thromde’s proposal to pedestrianize Norzin Lam, the Thromde will still execute its plan to remove the parking after Thimphu Tshechu.
In May 2015, first petition was submitted to Thromde with a request to review the Thromde’s plan to close Norzin Lam to traffic and relocate hardware shops.
Following that, in 2016, during the Third Thromde Tshogde, though the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement issued an order to hold the plan in abeyance, thromde still decided to go ahead with their plan.
On April 2017, a petition was signed by business owners and house owners against the proposed pedestrianization of Norzin Lam starting with a 15 minutes parking limit. As a result of this, a meeting was held in Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) with the affected stakeholders where there was open discussion with Norzin Lam business community on the rules of parking space. At this meeting, people came out strongly against the parking limit.
As Thromde wanted to go with their plan, a meeting was held between representatives of BCCI, business owners and the Thrompon, where strong objections were voiced.
However, behind the scene, Thromde carried out its plans urging all hardware shops to move from Norzin Lam. With this development, BCCI was again approached and the issue was to be raised in the AGM.
In June 2017, the issue was raised in the AGM of BCCI, and the former Lyonchhen directed business owners to submit petition to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA). Accordingly, a letter was submitted to the Minister of MoEA and in the following month, a consultative meeting was held with MoEA and representatives of Norzin Lam.
According to local businesses, on 8 January 2018, Thromde held a meeting in which most house owners and business owners were absent and Thromde presented their plan for pedestrianization again. This was not a consultation meeting but just a presentation according to the local businesses.
During the 165th Lhengye Zhungtshog held on 31 July 2018, an executive order passed by the Cabinet, froze any plans on the road without due consultation and planning.
Representatives of business and house owners, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) and Taxi Association of Bhutan will sign a petition and submit it to the North Thimphu MP, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, in the coming week.
The petition says that the Cabinet order state that the Thromde should not implement and changes to the use of Norzin Lam without an exhaustive study and consultation given the ramification of such a decision is still valid. Still then, Thromde plans to do away with the parking in the Norzin Lam limiting it to 5 minutes with blinkers. This is contrary to the intent of the order and against the wish of those affected on Norzin Lam.
One of the business owners said that the Thromde claims that in order to improve parking services to alleviate traffic congestion and facilitate mass urban transportation, it intends to do away with the parking along the Norzin Lam. “We are arguing that we don’t do away with congestion by not letting people drive on the road because this is the main artery. When they block the street, it will not decongest the area, but instead create congestion in other parts of the town. When Thromde blocks Norzin lam for one to two days during Thimphu Tshechu, the congestion in other parts is a nightmare,” stated the business owner.
She said, “The Thromde is planning to close the parking because people are not using their newly constructed parking structure. Local Government is prioritizing the economic viability of their Multi Level Car Parking project above small business. I feel that they are setting a bad precedence.”
She said it is not going to take care of the congestion because congestion in Changlam and Saabji Bazaar is worse than the Norzin Lam. Thromde should also decongest those areas instead of focusing on just Norzin Lam, she stated.
HRAB also said that the removal of parking space would create some inconveniences for businesses, landowners, commuters and general public.
“If Thromde is doing something or any project, it should benefit the people. If they lift the parking space, where will people park the car? The number of cars that we have in the city at present won’t fit in parking structure newly constructed,” said a HRAB representative.
Dechen, a representative of business owners, said that removing of parking will definitely create lots of inconvenience, especially for business owners and hoteliers as it will affect their business badly.
She added, “It is easy for Thromde to assure that removing parking won’t take away our business because this is new and, has Thromde thought about anything if this plan fails?”
Thromde has not executed the plan so we don’t really know what is going to happen, she said.
Thimphu Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee, said that the Thromde will only withdraw the parking space after Thimphu Tshechu because it is closing the Norzin Lam during Tshechu and after Tshechu the Thromde will execute its plan.
Thrompon said, “I am not pedestrianizing Norzin Lam, but just removing the parking space to provide more pedestrianized space, but the road will be still open for vehicular movement, where people can still drive.”
He said, “We want Norzin Lam to be more people friendly. Right now, it is like car’s street, people from everywhere come to Norzin Lam and park their cars for the whole day and even shopkeepers complain that they don’t have a parking to park their cars as the parking space is already occupied by other people. People park their car till 9 pm and leave only when parking fee collector leaves.”
Thrompon said many people can walk in the streets with the city is closed off. Many kids can play around making the city very livable. “Though Thromde’s plan to remove parking is as per the structure plan, we are just removing the parking space because we know that closing the road would create some inconveniences,” he said.
He further added, “Former Cabinet issued an order disapproving pedestrianizing of Norzin Lam without even consulting us in their last meeting, the day before they surrendered their office. It is not a proper decision.”
In our case, he said, “We have done consultation meeting where so many business people were there, and in the end, they all agreed. There are only one or two who is opposing. Those people can appeal or submit petition, but we will see who will win and we will go to the court if we have to. We are doing it for the public, and 98 percent of the population support our plan.”
Current cabinet unaware
Minister for the Ministry of Works and Human settlement, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering, said that the former Cabinet has not approved the Thromde’s proposal to pedestrianize Norzin Lam. Though removing of parking may not be pedestrianizing Norzin Lam, the Cabinet order does not state whether thromde is allowed to remove the parking.
He said, “Thimphu Thromde never brought this issue to the Cabinet, and we have not discussed on this issue as Thromde didn’t come to us. The past Cabinet order say the Cabinet will not allow pedestrianization of Norzin Lam, and this Cabinet will also not pedestrianize Norzin Lam.
The GROB through Thimphu Thromde envisioned the creation of off street parking facilities in the city center partnered with IFC to develop MLCP.
Kinzang Norbu from KCR private limited, an SPV set up by the winning consortium of CE construction private limited (Nepal), former NC chair Namgay Penjore from KNG Private Limited and Shacha Rinchen Dorji from Rinson Construction Private Limited were selected to execute the project, which will create an inventory of at least 550 parking spaces in Thimphu City via the first MLCP.
The project mobilized about USD 8 million of private sector investment and is projected to have a positive fiscal impact for the city through an annual revenue share of USD 230,000.