|President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with his secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, Monday. Moon decided not to lift the development ban on greenbelt zones in Seoul, after the idea was floated as an option to resolve a housing supply shortage. Yonhap|
By Kim Rahn
The government has decided not to open up "greenbelt" zones in Seoul to protect the environment, amid a controversy over whether to lift development restrictions there to help resolve a housing supply shortage.
President Moon Jae-in and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun agreed on preserving the greenbelts during their weekly lunch meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, according to the Prime Minister's Secretariat, Monday.
The conclusion follows weeks of mixed messages from ruling bloc figures over the issue, which have been criticized for aggravating confusion in the real estate market.
"The President decided not to open up the greenbelts but to keep them for future generations," the secretariat said in a press release.
Instead, the government will try to turn lands allocated for public facilities into residential districts, including a golf course near Taereung in northeastern Seoul, it said.
Moon's conclusion has come as criticism mounted over a lack of coordination by figures presenting their opinions in the ruling camp ― not only officials at relevant ministries, local governments and Cheong Wa Dae but also those whose major policy concerns are not real estate issues.
After a government real estate policy announced in June failed to stabilize housing prices, the administration considered lifting development restrictions in greenbelt zones to free up more land.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has long opposed the idea due to the need to protect the environment and prevent excessive expansion of the city, and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki seemed to back this, July 10, when he said that opening up the greenbelt was not one of the options for increasing the housing supply.
But he changed his own stance, July 14, saying greenbelts were included among possible options.
The next day, however, Park Sun-ho, vice minister for land, infrastructure and transport ― the ministry in charge of real estate policy ― said the government has neither considered opening greenbelts for development, nor started discussions with Seoul City over the matter.
Presidential chief of staff for policy Kim Sang-jo then made remarks that seemed to contradict the vice minister's comments. In a radio interview, Friday, Kim said, "The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have already reached an agreement," indicating they had agreed on lifting the greenbelt development ban.
The final flip-flopping took place Sunday, when Prime Minister Chung told a local TV station that the nation needs to take a "very cautious" approach about opening greenbelts, because they can never be restored once damaged.
On the possibility of the government using its authority to open the greenbelt while Seoul Metropolitan Government opposed the idea, Chung said, "That may be possible legally, but I don't think it would be appropriate."
Political heavyweights not directly related to the issue also jumped into the debate. Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung said, Sunday, supplying housing by opening Seoul's greenbelt would bring more losses than gains because it would cause more property speculation. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae expressed a similar view on Facebook, Saturday.
While these figures were presenting mixed opinions, Segok-dong and Naegok-dong in southern Seoul, which have long been greenbelt zones, both saw their land values begin to rise amid expectations of the development ban removal.
Kim Chong-in, the interim chief of the main opposition United Future Party, said, Monday, that everybody in the ruling camp was giving a different opinion on the issue. "People have no idea whom to believe and whether it is okay to trust in government policies," he said.