Greenbelt paradoxThe government has decided to remove development bans on 308.5 square kilometers (119.1 square miles) of greenbelt, an area half the size of Seoul, by 2020. President Lee Myung-bak earlier talked of a plan to build a large number of homes and to lift the greenbelt protection for the project if need be. Ten days after his remarks, a plan to supply 5 million residences has been announced. Now, 10 days after the announcement, the government has decided to remove the greenbelt.
The greenbelt designation has been in place for the past 40 years, although it wasn’t always to be maintained. Thus its removal shouldn’t be decided in such a hasty way.
We have asked the government to handle the issue with more care. When deciding to lift the greenbelt, we need to take into account not only its function as a site for housing or industry but also the long-term, efficient use of the land and strategies to secure green areas.
Although it was decided to lift the greenbelt restriction in 2001 after extensive public debates, the size of the total area to be removed by 2020 was decided at the minimum possible level. In addition, under this recent decision, there is still more greenbelt that can be lifted.
But the government has hastily decided on a threefold increase of the size of the greenbelt area to be removed. But when housing prices are falling, it is hard to understand why the government plans to remove greenbelts around Seoul, supply large numbers of residences and build apartments without restrictions on the number of floors.
It was also unwise to announce the total size of the greenbelt to be removed without first deciding on specific target areas. The move added fuel to the fire: Prices of the greenbelt land expected to be removed have already started to surge.
This may in fact tarnish the purpose of removing the greenbelt designation, which is to provide sites for residences and industries at competitive prices. The government explained in a rather flimsy fashion that even if certain greenbelt areas are requested to be removed, they won’t be lifted if land prices rise too high.
It is true that the purpose of a greenbelt - to keep areas green - has not worked well and it restricts owners’ rights over their properties. But the greenbelt is also a valuable asset.
Therefore, the concept of a greenbelt must not be damaged by thoughtless arguments for development and without proper debate or social consensus.