Mayor takes heat after backtrack

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Mayor takes heat after backtrack


Park Won-soon

Criticism is mounting against Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon over his postponed plan to develop the Yongsan and Yeouido areas following a spike in real estate speculation.

“You have disappointed locals in the area,” wrote a user on Park’s Facebook account on Sunday, when Park announced the plan’s postponement. “You sent shock waves in the housing market yet you are acting as if nothing happened.”

“Think about the consequences your policies have had on ordinary citizens who just want to save up enough to buy their homes in the city,” wrote another user. “Your greed in vying for the upcoming presidential election has caused the price of apartments to spike.”

Though the next presidential election is still years away, local media have reported that Park could be a feasible candidate for the ruling Democratic Party.

Members of Park’s own party also criticized him. “Speculative activities have recently spiked in the Yeongdeungpo [where Yeouido is located] and Yongsan districts,” DP Rep. Youn Kwan-suk told CBS Radio on Monday. “They have to do with the announcements on developing these areas as well as Gangbuk District.”

When Park was in Singapore last month to receive the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, Park proposed a plan to transform Yeouido, western Seoul, home to the National Assembly and the headquarters of several financial institutions, into a mixed residential-commercial island. He also proposed building a convention center above the railroad tracks between Seoul Station and Yongsan Station in central Seoul in a project modeled after the Paris Rive Gauche.

After completing his one-month stay in a rooftop house in Gangbuk District, northern Seoul, on Aug. 19, Park also announced a plan to focus on developing northern Seoul and other areas outside of Gangnam in southern Seoul in the next four years of his term. “It is completely the right of the Seoul mayor to plan urban development, including in Yeouido,” Park told CBS Radio on July 26.

Just a month later, on Sunday, Park announced that he would shelve the Yeouido and Yongsan plans, citing rising housing prices. The northern Seoul redevelopment plan still stands as of Sunday.

According to the Korea Appraisal Board, the average price of apartments in Seoul was rising steadily before it jumped last week.

Prices rose 0.11 percent from July 19 to July 26; 0.16 percent from July 26 to Aug. 2; 0.18 percent from Aug. 2 to Aug. 9; 0.18 percent from Aug. 9 to Aug. 16; and then by a whopping 0.37 percent from Aug. 16 to Aug. 23.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation said speculative activities hit worrying levels in Seoul earlier this month, including in Gumcheon, Gangbuk, Dongdaemun, Gangnam, Seocho, Yongsan, Yeongdeungpo and Mapo districts.

Some said blaming Park and Seoul city government is unfair.

“We didn’t mean for the development plans to become such a big issue,” said a source close to the mayor. “We can’t deny that they contributed to real estate speculation, but we can’t accept singling out Park as the cause behind it all.”

“The Seoul city government has no authority over real estate prices,” said Jin Sung-joon, Seoul’s vice mayor for political affairs. “The central government has power over that. It’s unfair that they are pointing fingers at the city government only.”

Kim Hyun-mee, the minister of land, infrastructure and transport, butted heads with Park last month over the Yeouido and Yongsan plans, saying they will need the ministry’s cooperation.

In a budget meeting on Monday, Kim praised Park’s decision to postpone the Yeouido and Yongsan plans.

“The postponement should help stabilize the [housing] market,” she said, adding that the Gangbuk development plan will also “need approval from the ministry” before it is implemented.

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