Following a day of clashes between protesters and police, Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) yesterday said there were “elements of injustice” involved in the dispute over the city’s urban renewal project.
The project in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林), under which a construction firm plans to turn an old residential complex for 38 households into a 15-story high-rise apartment complex, was stalled for three years because of opposition from a family surnamed Wang (王), who had lived in the area for decades. The Wangs were evicted on Wednesday and their two stand-alone homes demolished.
“There were some elements of injustice involved in the urban renewal project, and some rethinking of the urban renewal mechanism may be needed,” Lee said. “I’m worried that what happened to the Wangs may become an obstacle to urban renewal, and that would not be a good thing for the country.”
Lee made the remarks during a meeting at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee meeting, as he and Construction and Planning Agency Director-General Yeh Shi-wen (葉世文) were bombarded by questions by lawmakers across party lines who were upset over the eviction of the Wangs and the large number of police sent by the Taipei City Government.
The Wangs were the only family left who had refused to take part in the urban renewal project. However, the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) stipulates that, as long as the construction firm has obtained the consent of 75 percent of the land owners on a project site, it can ask the government to demolish the rest of the buildings by force.
On Wednesday, a demolition squad escorted by more than 1,000 police officers arrived at the site. More than 300 protesters who came out in support of the Wangs were removed by force, and the Wangs’ homes were demolished.
“The Wangs never said yes to the project, but the city government took their non-response as a yes,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) told Lee and Yeh. “How is this consent legitimate if the stakeholder never said ‘yes’ to it?”
Tuan asked why the agency did not try to intervene, since it has said the alleys around the project site might not be wide enough and could pose a fire hazard, or propose that the project be carried out without including the Wangs’ property.
“We did suggest that the Wangs’ property be excluded following a negotiation meeting in February, but the city government said it could not make changes since the project has already been approved,” Yeh said. “As for the fire hazard issue, the city government said it would take care of it and that it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Yeh said no actual on-site inspections had been conducted; instead, everything was done via written documents, since it is the local government that has the final say in the project.
“I wouldn’t say the city government has violated the law, but I believe it could have been done more cautiously,” Yeh said.
Several other DPP lawmakers, as well as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) and Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟) also expressed doubts about the urban renewal mechanism.
National Police Agency Director-General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞) apologized for the actions of some police officers, who allegedly tried to block the media from filming by shining their flashlights at their cameras.