On Oct. 11, the Taipei High Administrative Court revoked the permit for the Central Taiwan Science Park’s (CTSP) fourth-phase development project in Changhua County’s Erlin Township (二林). It is well worth investigating how the permit came to be issued in the first place.
The first factor to consider is the choice of location. The site proposed for the park’s fourth phase covers more than 600 hectares in the heart of central Taiwan’s most important farming region. The area is short of water and suffers from subsidence. Picking this location runs completely contrary to Taiwan’s national land-use system.
The National Science Council got round this fact by sleight of hand. It excluded, or minimized the weighting of, important selection criteria such as the master plan, water supply and construction limits, when converting them into selection indices. In contrast, it gave heavy weighting to construction potential, construction procedure and overall assessment (which combined to be 71.25 percent of the total score). That is how Erlin was chosen.
The second factor is that the Ministry of the Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency arranged for the ad-hoc case group of the ministry’s Regional Planning Committee to hold eight meetings over four months in 2009 — an average of one meeting every two weeks. From the CTSP’s third-phase development on the Houli Farm (后里) and its proposed expansion on the Cising Farm (七星) to the fourth-phase development project, the CTSP Administration regularly assured committee members that there would be no further development, yet repeatedly submitted new development proposals for the committee’s approval. Some committee members felt that they were being taken for a ride.
A meeting was then held on Nov. 12, 2009 — excluding members of the public and civic groups — where the project was approved. There were 11 votes in favor, including two people who only gave conditional support. The nine who supported the development plan unconditionally were official government delegates sent to vote the government’s way. The five remaining committee members who voted against the development plan were all experts and academics.
From the choice of location through to the granting of the construction permit, the CTSP’s fourth-phase development plan demonstrates how experts go along with government, how science acts at the behest of politics and how administrative departments surrender their authority.
This shabby fraud has turned experts and officials into political tools, and has made a joke of the nation’s entire land-use plan. It has led to scandals such as the CTSP’s attempt to divert water from farms in Sijhou Township (溪州), the release of industrial waste water into the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪) and the expropriation of farmland in Siangsihliao (相思寮). The whole thing has got completely out of hand.
Seen in this light, the recent court verdict simply seeks to put the national land-use plan, administrative departments and the system of review by experts back on track, and to help the public understand that sustainable development can only be achieved if economic development and the construction of science parks comply with national land-use regulations.
The verdict is also a test of whether those in control of state machinery, having used their influence to undermine the administrative system, will now try to undermine the judiciary as well. The interior ministry is of course entitled to appeal the verdict, but to do so would be further proof that it is no more than a toothless political tool that is beyond hope of redemption.
Liao Pen-chuan is an associate professor in National Taipei University’s Department of Real Estate and Built Environment and chair of Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan.
Translated by Julian Clegg