Lawmakers across party lines yesterday urged the government to take a more aggressive role in intervening in urban renewal cases when they involve a high degree of public interest, instead of allowing construction firms to take the initiative.
Following the controversial demolition of homes of the Wang (王) family last month in Shilin District (士林), Taipei City, to make way for a construction firm-initiated urban renewal project, in which the Wangs did not wish to take part, the Ministry of the Interior promised to push for a revision of the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例).
Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) and Construction and Planning Agency Director-General Yeh Shih-wen (葉世文) yesterday presented a report at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee on the direction of the ministry’s planned changes.
“Apparently, most urban renewal projects take place at locations where the real-estate values are higher, because most of these projects are initiated by construction firms and for them, their interests are more important than the public’s interests,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) said.
“So most of the so-called ‘urban renewal’ projects we see nowadays involve small plots of land and mostly involve demolishing old buildings to build luxury apartment complexes — that’s not what urban renewal should really be about,” he added.
Tuan made the remarks after Yeh said the ratio of government-initiated urban renewal projects to those initiated by construction firms was one-to-six.
Tuan said there are several older communities in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華) where most houses are between 30 and 50 years old and are in need of renewal, but there are no such projects because the property values there are not that high.
DPP Legislator Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) echoed Tuan’s remarks and said: “There should be amendments to the Urban Renewal Act to define what the ‘public interest’ is and the government should take a more active role where the degree of public interest in urban renewal projects is higher.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers also supported the idea.
KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said that urban renewal projects should be initiated based on need, instead of on real-estate value, while KMT Legislator Hsu Hsin-ying (徐欣瑩) said that the percentage of construction firm-initiated urban renewal projects was too high.
“The government should be on the front line instead of being in a secondary position when it comes to urban renewal,” Hsu said.
While they agreed with the lawmakers, Lee and Yeh said that the ideas of a government-led, purely public interest-based urban renewal project are difficult to put into practice at this stage.
“I agree with everything you [lawmakers] have said, but it’s not so easy to do right now, since we don’t have the budget to take the lead and that’s why urban renewal projects are mostly done in collaboration with construction firms,” Lee said.
Yeh said there are only about a dozen people in the agency responsible for urban renewal-related issues.
“That’s really not enough manpower for us to take a more active role in urban renewal right now,” he said.