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PHUKET CITY: Cabinet has approved a 2010 budget that includes ten billion baht (approx US$ 295 million) in funding for Phuket under the Finance Ministry’s ‘Thai Khem Khaeng’ (Strong Thailand) stimulus package.

The new budget green lights projects intended to solidify Phuket’s position as one of Southeast Asia’s leading tourist destinations. Highlights of the plan include a major airport expansion, improvements to roads and transport infrastructure, new schools and construction of an international convention and exhibition center.

Plans for a world-class convention center on the island have come and gone for almost two decades, with numerous sites considered and plans unveiled. Under the latest plan, the center is to be built on Treasury Department land in Mai Khao, near the Sarasin Bridge.

The lion’s share of the newly approved budget, 5.8 billion baht, is slated for an expansion of Phuket International Airport that will increase transit capacity from 6.5 million to 12.5 million passengers annually.

An additional 2.8 billion baht is earmarked for the convention and exhibition center, which will be built without a hotel and some other facilities that were included in the original proposal.

Phuket MP Raywat Areerob of the Democrat Party said Mai Khao and Thalang in general stood to benefit in many ways from the convention center, including an improved road network with overpasses.

The Mai Khao location will also make the center more easily accessible to people driving in from Phang Nga and Krabi, he said.

Some have criticized the location as too remote from the island’s main population centers to be practical.

Other projects approved under the plan include 100 million baht for a new indoor stadium at Saphan Hin, 400 million baht for an overpass or tunnel at the Darasamuth School Intersection on the bypass road, and approximately 90 million baht for infrastructure improvements, including paving of dirt roads.

Mr Raywat said the funds should be available after next month.

Construction of the convention center should take two or three years, he said.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for the airport expansion work was completed earlier this year, but plans still need to be drawn up and finalized before it can go out to bid, he said.

The Darasamuth School Intersection flyover (or tunnel) would be the most labor intensive of the smaller projects.

Still in the very early stages of its extensive EIA preparation, it could take up to five years to complete, he said.

— Atchaa Khamlo