[EDITORIALS]Caution, Greenbelts Ahead

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[EDITORIALS]Caution, Greenbelts Ahead

Thirty years after their designation, a large portion of greenbelts, or chunks of land where development is prohibited, will become available for development. The government has announced its plans for lifting the ban imposed on the belts located in and around seven large cities, including Seoul and Pusan. Considering that the belts in and around seven smaller cities, such as Cheju and Chunchon, already began to lose their designations last year, the total area of greenbelts that will become available for development as a result of the announcement will reach 1.4 billion square meters or 27 percent of the entire greenbelts around the country. That's twice the size of Seoul.

We see the greenbelt adjustment as inevitable for an efficient use of land and for protecting the property rights of residents there. As the government's move this time was focused on protecting property rights, a host of complaints concerning greenbelts are likely to subside. Revising the development restrictions would have taken place sooner or later since the Constitutional Court ruled in 1998 that the restrictions infringed on property rights and thus were unconstitutional.

On the other hand, however, we are concerned about where the lifting of restrictions would lead us considering all the policy mishaps that ended up riling the society and damaging the environment thus far. Whether the areas selected for the lifting of restrictions were chosen rationally, whether the local governments in those areas are properly equipped to implement the central government plan and whether the remaining greenbelt will be adequately protected are only some of the major questions that spring to our mind.

From the point of view that the development of the nation's land should be carried out in an environmentally-friendly manner, the government's decision to lift the restrictions is a backward step. Already, environmental groups are furiously opposing it on the grounds that the lifting of the ban is a lot broader than when the idea was first proposed at the beginning of this administration.

There are also problems with regional disparities in lifting the ban. Among the seven metropolises where deregulation is planned, the percentage of land where the damage to the environment is expected to be relatively minor - and thus could be set aside for development - ranged from 0.03 percent to 27.5 percent.

The Ministry of Construction and Transportation then decided that the range be reduced to between 6 and 13 percent to "ensure fairness." As a result, those regions where there are few greenbelts that could be set aside for development will see areas that are vital for environmental protection be bulldozed.

The development should also be carried out strictly in accordance with the principle of "planning first, development later." While the administrative reality makes it inevitable that local governments be endowed with the responsibility of planning and development, they are most likely to tilt in favor of development due to requests from their residents.

In addition, if the government could not prevent reckless development on the greenbelts released, its pledge that a significant portion of them will be kept "green" will be meaningless. The government should also be aware of over-heated investment in those lands.

While it maintains that the land price already jumped significantly when the idea of deregulation first floated around, the depressed economy and record-low interest rates are causes for concern.
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