PHUKET: Another beach club is about to open on Phuket as the attention of authorities turns to the future of the Phuket foreshores and Phuket's prime tourism assets, its beaches.
The Diamond Beach Club will open next month at the ''exclusive northern end'' of Surin along 60 metres of beachfront. The club will have an upstairs balcony as well as ''an impressive bar under a 375 square metre canopy.''
When we called the Mayor of Cherng Talay, Mar-Ae Samran, to ask him about the community benefits from the Diamond Beach Club, he told us that he had no idea.
Mayor Mar-Ae said that 32 local residents held Nor Sor Rol
titles to public land along the foreshore at Surin beach.
Those titles enabled them to legally develop the beachfront, often with the help of expat investors who had more money than the locals.
''We gain nothing from the shorefront beach clubs,'' he said. ''We also have no power to do anything.
''The only permission required comes from the Governor's special committee on the environment, and once the committee has approved a project, the Land Office in Thalang District will generally give permission.''
The mayor, elected last year, said that non-elected authorities - the governor, the committee and the Land Titles office - controlled the future of Surin's shorefront.
''It's a bad law,'' he told Phuketwan
. ''It's a bad system.''
Surin beach also is controversial because of the Pla Restaurant at the southern end of the beach.
An ugly timber buttress stretches out across the beach all year long. In high season, the restaurant adds a floating pier, showers for guests, large king-size double loungers and two rows of banner flags to deliniate its beach ''territory.''
last week fielded complaints from a wealthy young Hong Kong expat couple. They paid top dollar for a large villa on the Surin hillside at a time when there was no large-scale private enterprise on the beach.
''We bought at Surin because it was the kind of beach we thought it should be,'' said one of the villa's owners, a corporate lawyer.
''These days in high season we are forced to go to Bang Tao beach if we want to swim. It's what Surin used to be like.''
The growing clamor for more beach clubs on the shorefronts at many of Phuket's once-pristine beaches is likely to generate within the next few weeks a major issue for the new Phuket Governor, Maitree Inthusud.
Although many tourists want the beaches to be kept as free from commercial activities as possible, opinions differ widely about whether dining should be allowed on the beaches at night.
Only a small proportion if any of the income from the shorefront and commerical activities on most Phuket beaches - vendors, loungers, massages, kiosks - is invested back into beach protection and maintenance.
The misuse of Phuket's public beaches is at its most blatant when new resorts promote their ''private'' beaches, as is happening now with a well-known five-star brand due to open soon at Cape Panwa.
''We get nothing from the arrangement between the foreshore title holders and the investing developers,'' Mayor Mar-Ae said. ''If I had the power, I would spend a billion baht renewing the beaches. But we have no power.''
Beach clubs are increasingly popular and plainly what many tourists want. But how many of them will be enough? Two? Or 20?
The elected mayor of Surin has no say in the matter.
Phuket holidaymakers who try to stroll the length of the beach along the sand at Surin and encounter a restaurant's year-round wooden barriers also have no say in the matter.
What's worrying is that while Surin beach poses many specific questions for the new governor and other Phuket administrators, other beaches are also disappearing under illegal restaurants or illicit extensions of existing premises.
One hotel at Patong sets a poor example with a sandbagged flat-top dining area that stretches 20 metres out onto the beach.
A previously reputable five-star has staked a claim to a beach club at Kamala that is not just along the shorefront, but actually in the sand - along with a host of other high season business opportunities.
Strolling along Kamala beach in high season is like walking through a local market, except the prices are much, much higher.
At offshore islands around Phuket, the rate of privatisation is even more alarming. Coral reefs at small atolls with beaches will be the first to disappear, killed by mass tourism and greed.
As a growing horde of opportunists descend to make money from the more easily accessible public sands, ironically the beaches protected by resorts are likely to be kept in the best condition.
Future generations may occasionally catch a glimpse of a secluded ''private'' beach and learn that all Phuket's beaches were once attractive, appealing assets, not free-for-all market places.
After the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, holidaymakers on Phuket at the time made the most of New Year's Eve and celebrated their great escape.
Party on, Phuket. The next disaster is here.