What has actually happened is rather different. Some – but by no means all – of the businesses have received a letter from the Cherng Talay Municipality requesting – but not ordering – them to remove structures.
In all, according to the Municipality, 32 such letters were sent out on September 4, with the request that demolition take place by September 18.
So far nothing has happened. The letter states that if there is no cooperation, legal action may be taken against businesses deemed to have encroached on public land next to the beach.
It is not known whether Catch Beach Club, the beach’s largest premises, and the business that sparked the upmarket beach entertainment revolution along Surin Beach, has received a letter – a spokesperson declined to comment.
However, a partner in another beach club told The Phuket News on condition of anonymity, “I received the letter. It said that I have only 15 days.
“I get a letter like this every year. I have no idea what the OrBorTor will do because officials have told us to stay quiet.
“Any action should take place at all the beaches, not just Surin Beach.”
In any case, he said, his business is legal. “My restaurant is on my own land. It is correct. [On the other side of the path] there are only tables and chairs for customers.”
But he added, “If [action by the Municipality] affects restaurants and other businesses, it will not be good for Phuket’s tourism image because there are not enough restaurants along Surin Beach to cater to all the tourists during the high season.”
Claire Cookson, partner in Salt restaurant, said, “We’ve received no notification but then, apart from the steps down to the beach, we have no structure on the beach side. I prefer it that way – the view is so beautiful.”
Other businesses The Phuket News tried to contact either declined to comment or could not be reached.
The situation along Surin Beach has a complex history. The land on the east side of the pathway belongs to the Cherng Talay Municipality which, a couple of decades ago, granted long leases to local people to establish businesses.
When the lessees set up their businesses on the beach itself, the municipality told them to stop, and erected basic buildings on the leased land to encourage them to get off the beach.
Those buildings are still there, most of them substantially modified. Catch Beach Club, for example, occupies five of the buildings.
Cherng Talay Municipality President Ma’ann Samran told The Phuket News on Friday (October 4) that none of the businesses had taken any action following delivery of the letter with its September 18 deadline.
“The next step will be to report them to the police for encroaching.” Asked when this would happen, he replied, “We need to consider the situation very carefully first.”
There will inevitably be debate over definitions. “Permanent” structures on public land are barred by law, but the definition of permanent is not clear.
At one end of the spectrum, beach chairs and tables are clearly not permanent, while concrete walls on foundations set in the sand clearly are.
But the laying of timber flooring falls somewhere between, and appears to be open to interpretation. Also open to interpretation will be application of laws that prohibit businesses from making use of beaches and other public land for profit – a law that is, in Phuket, more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Last month Mr Ma’ann said that letters had not been sent to Surin Beach businesses alone, but also to some operating on Layan and Bang Tao beaches.