Civic group sues Seoul gov't to stop Gwanghwamun project

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Civic group sues Seoul gov't to stop Gwanghwamun project

Civic group activists hold signs opposing the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s plans to renovate the Gwanghwamun Square area in central Seoul Tuesday during a press conference in Seoul. [YONHAP]

Civic group activists hold signs opposing the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s plans to renovate the Gwanghwamun Square area in central Seoul Tuesday during a press conference in Seoul. [YONHAP]

A civic group filed suit against the Seoul Metropolitan Government in the Seoul Administrative Court Tuesday in the latest attempt to pull the plug on a multibillion-won project aimed at reducing car lanes and increasing walking space around Gwanghwamun Square.
 
The Gwanghwamun project, led by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, was a core pillar of the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s pollution-reducing initiative to redesign the central Seoul area so that people can move more easily on foot rather than relying on cars.
 
The project involves converting all six lanes west of Gwanghwamun Square into a large park, and adding one to three more lanes on the east side of the square in front of the U.S. Embassy, where there are currently six lanes. When the project is finished, three to five lanes around Gwanghwamun Square will be gone for good.  
 
Construction for the project officially began last month.
 
While announcing the project’s commencement, Acting Seoul Mayor Seo Jung-hyup said in an online press briefing at City Hall that the Seoul Metropolitan Government had planned the project and discussed it with the public for several years, implying the initiative has gained enough public support.
 
But several urban development activists accused the city of ignoring their opinions and trying to push through reconstruction as quickly as possible to add to their list of administrative achievements before a new mayor gets elected next April — and possibly scrap the project entirely.
 
The Citizens' Coalition of Economic Justice, a civic group, went a step further Tuesday by suing the Seoul Metropolitan Government in the Seoul Administrative Court, formally asking the court to review the legality of the Gwanghwamun project's administrative process with the aim of shutting down the project altogether. The civic group is part of a coalition of nine organizations opposing the project. 
 
The Citizens' Coalition of Economic Justice is one of three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, along with two residents who have lived near Gwanghwamun Square for eight to 10 years.
 
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs pointed out several administrative processes they argued the Seoul Metropolitan Government bypassed, including one requiring a pre-feasibility study for all state projects costing at least 50 billion won ($45 million) in construction fees and 30 billion won in state subsidies.
 
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s 2021 budget plan, 53.4 billion won has been earmarked for the Gwanghwamun renovation project next year, while a separate 50.6 billion won has been set aside for restoring a wide traditional platform in front of Gyeongbok Palace, called a woldae in Korean. 
 
The Seoul Metropolitan Government refuted this claim Tuesday, saying the Gwanghwamun project was planned to entirely be funded through city coffers, which is why the city project doesn’t have to go through a pre-feasibility study that’s normally for state projects.
 
The city government denied all other claims set forth by the plaintiffs as well and threatened to file a countersuit against them.
 
BY HEO JEONG-WON, LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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