More than 80 percent of Taiwanese live in urban areas. To improve their living environment, the government has formulated a draft bill to reward the reconstruction of dangerous and old urban buildings.
These regulations have been criticized by many academics and other experts for neglecting urban planning, the public interest and the preservation of cultural assets, as well as for being too restrictive. It makes one wonder if this is another government policy that will go awry.
In practice, it is more urgent to reconstruct dangerous buildings than old ones and the same rewards should not be applied to both categories.
There are many dangerous buildings, but the government does not want to force the demolition of such buildings in accordance with articles 81 and 82 of the Building Act (建築法). Instead, it is pinning its hopes on cooperation between the government and the private sector as a way of initiating a gradual urban renewal process and resolving the problem.
Urban renewal involving dangerous buildings is not any different from a regular urban renewal project: It is all about issues such as the public interest versus a majority decision, commercial floor space versus building coverage ratio, renewal cost versus rewards, and willingness versus the uncertainty of the timetable and the rewards.
However, residents in dangerous buildings often find themselves in a difficult situation. It is often difficult to obtain the 100 percent agreement among people living in a building that is required for a renewal project, and in the case of buildings built using unprocessed sea sand, for example, this places the residents in danger.
If the government adopts complimentary measures such as allowing an expansion of the building coverage ratio, waiving the urban renewal review and setting a fixed reward value as well as rent subsidies, reductions or exemptions, while also providing a match-up platform, that would probably gain widespread public support.
However, the situation concerning old buildings is different. Waiving the existing regulations for taxes and buildings in the Urban Planning Act (都市計畫法) for a single or several old urban buildings would seem to be an attempt to benefit a certain party. If the government wants to encourage the rebuilding of old buildings, it should narrow down the number of eligible buildings in an attempt to benefit those that have a real need, and it should also evaluate the extent of the impact and the aftereffects. Once that is done, it should solicit the opinion of other sectors and adjust the plan accordingly before proposing a plan rather than rushing through a controversial proposal.
Coincidentally, New Taipei City has issued temporary regulations for initiating disaster-resistant urban renewal. These regulations are specifically aimed at dangerous buildings and they set time limits for the demolition of such buildings, as well as complimentary measures and fixed rewards. They also include health checks of old buildings.
This is a very good way of rebuilding dangerous buildings and the central government should use it as a reference.
The draft bill proposed by the government mixes up dangerous buildings with old buildings. Given the requirement that 100 percent agreement among residents is required, the biggest beneficiaries are likely to be big landowners and corporations.