Zone expropriations have sparked many fierce clashes in Taiwan over the last few years, such as those in Miaoli County’s Dapu Village (大埔), the Erchongpu (二重埔) area and the Puyu (璞玉) project in Hsinchu County, the Wunshan (文山) industrial zone in Greater Taichung, the zone around station A7 of the Metro line that will eventually run between Taipei and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and the Port of Taipei in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Bali (八里) District.
Unfortunately, the government has failed to reflect on these incidents and amend laws, regulations and policies to ameliorate them. On the contrary, it is preparing to launch a second wave of zone expropriations covering even bigger areas, such as the second-phase Danhai New Town (淡海新市鎮) development project, covering 1,154 hectares, and the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, with an area of 4,686 hectares. These expropriations are likely to provoke even bigger protests.
Zone expropriations are employed in government-led land development projects and involve the government forcing landowners to take part in joint construction. These members of the public are left with only two choices. One is to accept monetary compensation and move elsewhere, and the other is to apply for land ownership as alternative compensation.
Zone expropriations usually happen when agricultural land is re-categorized as urban land. The official value of farmland is generally well below its market value. Because farmers do not stand to get much in the way of monetary compensation, many people are forced to apply for land instead of money.
However, this option can be just as unfair. There are questions about where the land that will be awarded is located and how much will be given. These key issues should be settled when a joint construction project is initiated, but are often left completely blank and then decided by drawing lots at a later date. What kind of joint construction is that? It is not joint construction at all, it is daylight robbery.
Naturally, many people do not want to go along with this kind of deal, but the government still forcibly includes their land in the area covered by zone expropriations. Once that has happened, landowners have no way to refuse participating in the project. Due to this unfairness, land expropriations are often met with protests.
In order to avoid encountering too much resistance, the government takes into account such factors as the strength of those opposed, the benefits to be gained from developing the land and the influence of political factions and voter support before embarking on an expropriation.
Based on these considerations, the government often assigns extremely irregular and strangely shaped areas for zone expropriation, and this is another point that is frequently questioned by people whose land is being expropriated and who are wondering why their land was included, but their neighbor’s was not even though they are both part of the same block.
When people ask this kind of question and actually get the government to reply, it usually does so in very vague terms, using phrases such as “obstructing the overall developmental aims of the urban renewal project” or “altering the principles of surveying and selection in zone expropriation.”
As to what those aims and principles actually are, no clear explanation is offered. This way of handling things is extremely unreasonable and not at all in keeping with the basic requirements of administrative procedure in a democratic country.Given that zone expropriations are generally associated with newly formulated or revised urban plans, the high number of such projects is an indication of how urban planning has got out of hand.
A corrective measure proposed by the Control Yuan in July revealed that the total population quoted as being affected by urban planning in 2010 was 25,183,307, whereas the actual population of the areas involved was just 18,407,736. That is a difference of 6.78 million. As the Control Yuan document says, this discrepancy shows that population figures quoted in many urban plans are made up or inflated. Nevertheless, the government continues to quote inflated figures for population increases and to develop land in line with these bogus numbers.
The fifth item of the Official Guidelines For Applying to Formulate or Extend Urban Plans on Non-urban Land (非都市土地申請新訂或擴大都市計畫作業要點) says that when an urban plan is initiated or extended, the land allocated for that urban development, or the planned population, must make up 80 percent or more of the existing urban planning area of the township, city or district in which the area for which the application is being made is located. Do the aforementioned land expropriation cases that have already been or will be implemented comply with this regulation? None of them do.
A government should treat its citizens fairly, but unfortunately in Taiwan an individual’s property rights depend on how much political and economic power that individual has. The rights and interests of a minority of landowners in cities, and of developers and corporations, are fully protected, and the government offers them plenty of preferential treatment such as floor area incentives, exemption from floor area measuring and development rights. These perks allow them to make even greater profits from the difference between buying and selling prices than they otherwise would.
In contrast, for the great majority of farmers and other people who lack political and economic power, property rights go no further than the low value officials place on their land. Furthermore, the government uses zone expropriation to seize and occupy their property and deprive them of their basic rights.
The government has seriously diverged from its proper role in this issue and zone expropriations in their existing form are causing Taiwanese society to become mired in disputes and crises.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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