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Ministries in discord over lifting construction ban on Seoul’s greenbelts

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, left, and Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee attend a press briefing held at the Seoul government complex on July 10. (Yonhap)
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, left, and Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee attend a press briefing held at the Seoul government complex on July 10. (Yonhap)
Agencies handling the Moon Jae-in administration’s ambitious measures to cool down the heated real estate market revealed Wednesday that they are not all on the same page over the possibility of lifting the construction ban in greenbelt areas.

In an interview with local news outlet MBC on Tuesday, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said the government is open to the possibility of lifting the construction ban in certain designated greenbelt zones to resolve the nation’s housing supply shortage.

Greenbelt zones are protected areas where construction is banned for environmental reasons. They currently account for around 25 percent of Seoul’s total area, and together they cover 149 square kilometers in 19 of the city’s 25 districts.

“We are currently reviewing five or six different measures to supply more housing and are open to the possibility of checking the greenbelt issue following the ongoing reviews, if necessary,” Hong told MBC. Hong was referring to the latest measures announced via the administration’s 22nd set of policy actions on July 10 to bolster the housing supply in Seoul and other key areas, including public projects to redevelop old homes and recycle vacant offices.

But early Wednesday, Vice Land Minister Park Sun-ho took a more cautious stance on the greenbelt issue in a radio interview with CBS, saying that “the issue of using greenbelts to simply build homes would require more thought.”

Park explained that greenbelt zones not only protect the environment, but also help prevent urban sprawl.

“We have yet to officially start a discussion on the issue,” he added, while stressing the importance of utilizing reconstructed housing.

The gap in tone between the two ranking officials spurred concerns among market observers here about a possible slowdown in the implementation of housing measures due to discord. Some experts and homeowners are already voicing skepticism that the Moon administration’s real estate measures -- which focus on levying heavier taxes on owners of multiple properties -- will cool down the housing market.

Despite government efforts, the median price of Seoul apartments climbed 52 percent from 606 million won ($505,000) to 920 million won during the three years of the Moon administration as of May this year, a report by the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice based on KB Kookmin Bank’s data showed last month.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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