On July 18, four houses in Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南) were demolished against the will of their owners to make way for a controversial science park extension project.
The origins of the Dapu incident can be traced back to 2008, when an optoelectronics company applied to the Miaoli County Government for land on which to build a factory.
The county government, keen to attract investment from the company in question, drew up a plan for the expansion of the Jhunan Science Park, which is a branch of the Hsinchu Science Park, along with designated areas on the periphery of the Jhunan base. Although the company has said that it no longer needs land to build a factory, the county government is still determined to forge ahead with the plan.
To obtain a “dedicated park business area” of 27.98 hectares, the expansion plan demands 154 hectares of new urban planning land. Apart from the core “dedicated park business area,” the plan allocates 67.55 hectares for residential zones, 2.88 hectares for a business zone and 1.85 hectares for a scientific and technological commerce zone, and it specifies that this land is to be developed through zone expropriation.
In the past, government authorities always considered zone expropriation an example of “good government,” based on the idea that it offers great benefits to landowners, so landowners ought not to oppose the plan. However, contrary to the expectations of the authorities, the residents of Dapu did not appreciate the county’s plan and joined together to resist the proposed expropriation of land and demolition of buildings. The county government paid scant attention to the demands raised by Dapu residents, which eventually led to a series of protests and clashes.
The Dapu incident is by no means an isolated case, and it will not just fade away now that the buildings have been demolished. If the central and local governments remain insensitive to the issues involved, and are unwilling to make any reforms, more such incidents will occur.
There are a number of lessons that a government that is so fond of corporations ought to consider.
First, land expropriations should be in the public interest, necessary, appropriate and reasonable, and they should be subject to a more rigorous system of examination and deliberation.
Second, there should be stronger safeguards for property rights and land ownership rights. When there are plans to expand or establish urban planning areas, some of the land should be set aside for farming, so that landowners who do not want to take part in zone expropriation can be provided with appropriate places to settle down.
Third, courts dedicated to land issues should be established, so that land expropriation disputes can be resolved in the courts, which should lead to a reduction in street protests.
Fourth, the government should recognize that there is already an oversupply of land for urban development.
Considering the glut of available land, the Cabinet would be well advised to revive the regulation stipulating that the expansion and establishment of urban planning areas should be put on hold except when they are needed for major national or local construction projects.
Fifth, hardly any land development instruments are available for urban planning, other than land readjustment and zone expropriation procedures under the land administration system. It would therefore be helpful to formulate a new law regulating land development.
Yang Chung-hsin is dean of Chinese Culture University’s College of Environmental Design.
Translated by Julian Clegg