The problem of soil liquefaction has always been a potential threat to buildings in Taiwan. Following a recent public outcry, the government decided to stop deceiving the public and make all the information on soil liquefaction publicly available on a Web site. The decision marks a major step forward for government transparency.
Although the government on March 14 launched the online database featuring graphics and information on areas prone to soil liquefaction, the data are not precise enough. To avoid public guesswork and paranoia, the government should not only tell people not to panic or encourage them to conduct a “health check” on their properties, but should also announce a schedule for the release of more precise data.
Meanwhile, since the database’s launch, the real-estate sector has been discussing its impact on property prices.
Minister of the Interior Chen Wei-zen (陳威仁) and Construction and Planning Agency Director-General Hsu Wen-long (許文龍) said that as the data contained insufficient information, the database simply serves as a reference guide until more precise data are made available. The maps are at a scale of 1:25,000. The question is whether such poor graphics and information can put minds at ease.
Soil liquefaction affects the real-estate market in two areas: Existing buildings and planned buildings. Existing buildings, once they are confirmed to be located in areas prone to soil liquefaction, need to immediately go through structural and ground assessment to decide whether they need to be rebuilt.
For both property owners and potential buyers, repair and reinforcement work is likely unavoidable. If such work occurs before the sale of a property, due to either the government’s requirements or on the owner’s initiative, the costs could be transferred to the buyer through a higher price. However, if buildings that should be repaired and improved are neglected, the potential cost for such measures could result in lower prices.
If the government does not intervene, it is questionable whether people would take the initiative to perform ground improvement or structural reinforcement work themselves. That would make it difficult to control and manage risks, and the government surely does not want to see that.
As for planned construction and renovation projects, developers are expected to increase geological drilling, improve foundation designs, perform ground improvements or build deeper foundations to avert risks. Whether the government would provide subsidies or incentives to cover the expenses required for such measures would determine total construction costs.
The government needs to establish a platform to integrate all geological data from both the public and private sectors. The central and local governments should then confirm the data and publish a detailed map of areas prone to soil liquefaction. They can then gradually come up with complementary measures, timetables and policies to alleviate public fears.
That is what a responsible government should do.
Justin Sun is an associate professor at National Chengchi University’s Department of Land Economics.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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