Gov’t stalls Gwanghwamun plansThe Ministry of the Interior and Safety and the city government of Seoul are butting heads over a plan to expand Gwanghwamun Square after the ministry recently requested the city government adjust its timetable.
“It is difficult to understand why the ministry is sending a notice at this point to oppose the plan,” said Jin Hee-sun, deputy mayor of Seoul, in a press conference at the city hall on Thursday. “The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been trying its best to meet the requirements of the ministry, and it did meet most of them.”
The ministry sent a notice to the city government on July 30 requesting the city government “adjust the plan in order to take in a more thorough opinion of the public and to have more citizens and experts take part in the planning.”
Jin said the city government will push through with the plan to complete the expansion of the square by May 2021.
“The redevelopment of Gwanghwamun Square will follow the original planning schedule,” Jin said. “The city government will continue to work with the ministry and citizens to present them with a new square.”
The Seoul city government announced in April 2018 a plan to expand the square to include the road in front of the Sejong Center, rerouting traffic so that cars only drive up one side of the square. The plan also involves bringing back a Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) terrace that used to sit just outside Gyeongbok Palace and possibly moving the statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin out of the square. The city also intends to build an underground plaza that will connect Gwanghwamun Station to City Hall Station and extend as far as Dongdaemun.
The Interior Ministry has voiced concerns about the plan, especially regarding the feasibility of incorporating the road in front of the Sejong Center into the square and rerouting traffic.
“According to the city government’s plan, rerouting traffic will involve building roads through areas occupied by annex buildings of the central government,” the ministry said in a statement in January. “This creates problems for the central government. This plan has not been consulted with the central government.”
The city government said that it has now consulted with the ministry and held 11 meetings to discuss whether to provide a separate space elsewhere for the annex buildings and the details related to rerouting the roads.
The two appeared to have reached an agreement in May, when they issued a statement saying they “agreed on the big picture of the plan.”
However, Interior Minister Chin Young said in a meeting with a group of reporters on July 25 that “there is nothing settled between the city government and the ministry regarding the remaking of Gwanghwamun Square.”
“Our position has not changed from earlier in the year,” Lee Jae-kwan, head of the government building management bureau of the Interior Ministry, told the JoongAng Ilbo last week. “The Seoul city government is going through with the plan without consulting us. We need to listen to the public about what they want regarding the square.”
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon reportedly requested a meeting with Chin, but the minister has not responded to the request, according to an interview Chin had with Yonhap News Agency last week.
The city government had planned to start working on rerouting the traffic roads near the square this month. The work requires the approval of the National Police Agency, which is likely to be difficult considering the Interior Ministry’s request that the plan be reconsidered.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, LEE SANG-JAI [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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