A plan to turn an enormous area occupied by the air force in central Taipei into a lavish “judicial park,” including up to six courthouses, has drawn questions from lawmakers concerned about the scope and cost of the project.
Judicial Yuan President Rai Hau-min (賴浩敏) said on Tuesday he hoped to see the consolidation of several courts and office buildings onto the 7 hectare site, across the road from The Palace, one of Taipei’s most expensive residential developments.
In the legislature yesterday, lawmakers across party lines said the move would cost billions of NT dollars and called it a distraction from the more pressing issue of judicial reform, one of Rai’s key promises after being nominated by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to head the nation’s judiciary in August.
“President Ma is probably thinking at this point that he found the wrong person,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said. “Judicial reform starts with changing people ... not by building a grand house.”
The Judicial Yuan, which has since released detailed plans of its proposal, did not say how much it expected the building to cost or how it would be funded. It plans for 261,000m2 of floor space and to move at least six different courts into the area alongside the Judicial Yuan headquarters.
The proposal includes the establishment of an international conference hall, restaurants, parking lots and a library. The Supreme Court and the Taiwan High Court, as well as local district courts in Taipei, would be part of the complex.
“President Rai hopes we can trade all the land used by judicial agencies in Taipei City for land underneath air force command headquarters to create a ‘Judicial Park,’” the Judicial Yuan said in a statement.
Rai told the Chinese-language China Times he expected to personally hand the request to Ma, although he did not give a specific deadline. Reports quoted Rai as saying that a decision would be a test for Ma on his level of commitment to judicial reform.
Those remarks attracted strong words from KMT Legislator Alex Fai (費鴻泰), who said Rai owed the public an apology for tying the two issues and “threatening” the president with it. Although Rai’s nomination was approved by a majority of KMT lawmakers in October, Fai said he was starting to regret casting his support.
The DPP caucus also expressed strong opposition, with lawmaker Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) calling Rai an “ancient fossil” for releasing the proposal in defiance of widespread disapproval. He said it was dangerous for the head of the judiciary to be so out of touch with public opinion.
The land, one of the last large plots set for redevelopment in the heart of Taipei, could cost tens of billions of NT dollars if sold on the private market. It is set to be vacated next year after the air force command headquarters moves to a new building in the city’s Neihu District (內湖).
Although zoned for military use, potential developers have eyed the plot for years, aiming to turn it into a residential, commercial or government development.
During his election campaign, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said he hoped the grounds would be turned into subsidized housing, nicknamed the “Little Palace,” for disadvantaged groups and young people, citing its convenient location.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has also said part of the land could be used as a new location for the legislature, which is currently located in a building built by the Japanese prior to World War II.