Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), having watched the documentary Beyond Beauty — Taiwan From Above (看見台灣), immediately ordered a task force to be established to look into the theft of gravel, the overuse of land in mountain areas and the sustainability of state land. The inter-departmental task force was to investigate how to address the destruction of national land and pollution issues revealed in the documentary.
The problem was, this Cabinet of ours was looking at the erosion of our national land only through what the film was telling them. The film, however, concentrated on the farmers who are using too much groundwater and too much land on hillside slopes, while talking little about the more serious issue of who has been polluting our rivers and seas. Neither did the film expose the full scale of the problem of fencing off land for speculative purposes.
Putting aside the chaos surrounding the development of industrial parks or the general incompetence of those working to curtail pollution, there is also the problem of escalating property prices: Central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) has said that real estate in Taiwan has become more expensive than it is in Tokyo, and Cathay Financial chairman Tsai Hong-tu (蔡宏圖) has also commented that land speculation in certain areas has gotten out of hand. Clearly, the Cabinet’s priority should absolutely be how to put a stop to unbridled urban development and land speculation carried out in the name of economic development.
In actual fact, Jiang should not have needed to wait to see the documentary, and legislators should not have needed to spend public money flying over Taiwan’s landscape in helicopters to be seen to be doing their jobs. The facts and figures are there for all to see in the existing official statistics and analysis, making it perfectly clear where the root causes of our island’s sickness reside: The government’s indulgence in planning for urban development.
First, updates issued by the Control Yuan on June 6 to the Ministry of the Interior and the various local governments around the country, and the new national zoning plan announced on Oct. 17 by the Construction and Planning Agency, both indicated that up until the end of 2011, the total population living within urban planning zones throughout the country stood at about 18.73 million — the rest of Taiwan’s population, approximately 4.37 million people, living in rural locations or in the mountains — but the plans allow for a population figure as high as 25.12 million people, that is, 6.39 million higher than the previous figure.
Furthermore, the zoning plan also revealed that the urban planning zones included about 99,000 hectares of agricultural land that was generally regarded as being land set aside for urban areas to house 14.27 million people after it is rezoned as residential. Combining the two figures, the present national urban planning zones allow for a total capacity of just under 40 million people.
However, according to the Council for Economic Planning and Development’s population forecast report for the period last year through 2060, Taiwan’s population growth rate has already started to decline and, according to medium variant projections, the total national population is expected to start to fall following its peak in 2024 of 23.66 million. Clearly, there is no way the population is ever going to reach the level set out in the urban planning forecasts discussed above.