Moon says developing greenbelt areas is off the table
As the government frantically looks for ways to drive down property prices, developing greenbelt zones is not an option, President Moon Jae-in decided Monday.
Last week, high-ranking government officials made statements that suggested the development of greenbelt zones, or protected areas where the construction of housing is not permitted in order to bring open spaces to city centers, was a possibility.
Moon decided to maintain greenbelt zones for future generations in a Monday meeting with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun at the Blue House.
According to the Prime Minister's office, the two discussed expanding housing supplies and the possible use of publicly-owned land, including a golf practice range in Nowon District in northern Seoul. However, Moon and Chung agreed to preserve the greenbelts for future generations.
In a separate Blue House secretary meeting, Moon stressed the need to direct capital into productive investments other than real estate.
“We have to do our best so that excessive liquidity contributes to corporate investment and creates household incomes,” Moon said.
Earlier Monday, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said that the government will release a plan to increase housing supplies amid deepening controversy surrounding the use of greenbelt areas.
However, the Finance Ministry did not elaborate on whether the greenbelt issue was discussed.
“The related government department and institutions have agreed to continue to cooperate in looking into various measures in supplying housing units in the metropolitan area,” Hong said during a government meeting, which also included Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee as well as Blue House top economic secretary Lee Ho-seung.
“We have [decided] to introduce [housing] supply measures as quickly as possible,” Hong said.
Controversy was ignited when Hong last week said in a televised interview that lifting greenbelt restrictions could be a consideration.
The following day Vice Land Minister Park Sun-ho denied the claimed, insisting the government was not considering lifting greenbelt restrictions.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, there are 3,837 square kilometers of greenbelt zones total in Korea as of December 2019, about 4 percent of the entire country. They were first introduced by President Park Chung Hee in 1971.
Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, a frontrunner for the Democratic Party (DP) presidential nomination in 2022, said Monday the issue of greenbelts needed to be approached with “extreme” caution.
“It is right to seek other options such as maximizing use of empty offices, higher-density development ... and relaxing regulations on setting up residential buildings within commercial districts,” Lee said.
Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung chipped in, saying that once greenbelt restrictions are lifted, it will be impossible to undo the damage.
He added that building apartments in greenbelt zones in places like Gangnam would only fuel speculative investment.
Half a dozen members of Moon’s cabinet commented on the issue, but with little agreement.
Blue House policy secretary Kim Sang-jo on Friday hinted that the Blue House was leaning toward viewing greenbelts as an option to supply housing units, adding that it had reached an agreement with the DP on the issue.
But on Sunday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said no agreement had been reached between the government and the ruling party on the issue.
“Once the greenbelts are damaged, they can’t be repaired,” Chung said.
Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae said on Facebook Sunday that developing greenbelts would only attract speculative investments to Seoul and the metropolitan area.
When Choo was criticized for expressing an opinion on an issue unrelated to her job, she replied that even a Justice Minister can express an opinion on a major national policy.
A recent survey showed that most respondents are against lifting greenbelt restrictions.
A survey by Realmeter of 1,000 adults aged over 18 found that 60.4 percent were against lifting greenbelt restrictions while 26.5 percent said it was necessary to supply more residences.
Opposition was strong in the metropolitan area. Among those that participated in the survey, 62.6 percent living in Gyeonggi and Incheon opposed, while in Seoul 61.8 percent disagreed.
On the other hand, reactions in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces were almost even: 40.9 percent opposed lifting restrictions while 34.1 percent were in favor.
The survey also showed that people in their 30s and 40s were the most adamant against change.
Some 69.7 percent of people in their 30s were against changes to greenbelt regulations, along with 72.9 percent of people in their 40s.
On Saturday, people demonstrated in central Seoul in protest of the government's most recent measures to cool the real estate market.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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