Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) recently called for the Presidential Office to be relocated from Taipei to Tainan. During the election campaign, People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) also advocated the relocation of the Presidential Office, although he proposed that it be moved to Taichung.
The relocation of important offices of state is not without precedent. The Taiwan Provincial Government and Taiwan Provincial Consultative Council were both relocated from Taipei to Jhongsing New Village (中興新村) in Nantou County in 1956. Japan in 1868 relocated its capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and Brazil in 1960 moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia.
The relocation of a capital or central government departments is not just about distributing political benefits, an even more important aspect is the creation of a blueprint for comprehensive national development.
Since Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) presidents have been unable to propose a complete strategic territorial blueprint for Taiwan. To date, each and every phase of Taiwan’s land use strategy has simply been a response to the practical needs of the day.
Prior to 1970, apart from land included within the government’s urban planning, any plot of land could be developed as the landowner saw fit. At the time, in order to improve the equalization of urban land rights so that rising land values accrued for the public, half of Taiwan’s urban planning strategies were delineated during the 10-year period between 1970 and 1980.
However, this resulted in skyrocketing real-estate prices in cities that caused rampant speculation on land outside of urban areas. For this reason, beginning in the mid-1970s, the government enacted laws to regulate regional planning and implemented a comprehensive non-urban land usage plan, which introduced usage controls to land outside of urban areas.
In the early 1990s the government started to enact restraints on floor-to-area ratios, which caused a scramble to build high-capacity buildings. Beginning in 2000, the government opened up the free sale and purchase of agricultural land and building countryside villas became a mainstream form of investment.
For three-quarters of a century, land development in Taiwan has lacked a comprehensive national strategy, which has led to construction taking place on land that falls both inside and outside urban planning and provide housing for up to nearly 30 million people.
There is no shortage of land for construction in Taiwan; what Taiwan lacks is a comprehensive national land strategy and balanced regional development.
This month, the government announced the enactment of the National Land Use Planning Act (國土計畫法), which gives the public and the incoming government an opportunity to collaborate on the direction of the nation’s land development strategy. In particular, it is an opportunity to consider the relocation of the Presidential Office, Legislative Yuan, Executive Yuan and other important offices of state, which would have the most potential to spur urban and rural development and re-allocate resources to regions other than Taipei.
The incoming government should convene a body of experts to create a national land development master plan for the long-term. It should involve discussion, free from political bias and based upon factors including local characteristics, geographical conditions, agricultural development, tourism, environmental sustainability, industrial development and regional balance. The result should be a national land strategy for Taiwan that would allow the nation to blossom and benefit from truly sustainable and balanced development.
Alpha Cho is chairman of the China Land Reform Institution.
Translated by Edward Jones
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