Wednesday,  Sep 26, 2018,00:30 (GMT+7) 0 0
Constant conflict
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Sep 6, 2018,20:58 (GMT+7)

Constant conflict

By Son Nguyen

The general public has conveyed support, but experts and officials are split over a plan to develop an Urban Railway Project No. 2 underground terminal at a site next to Ho Guom (Sword Lake) in the heart of Hanoi. While many are of the opinion that such a facility gives a strong boon to the development of the core zone in the capital city, others have voiced reservations and even full-throated protests, saying such a construction work would threaten the lake as a national heritage site.

Such controversies, says local media, are understandable, as development in numerous cases is found in the direct collision course with preservation, except that in this peculiar circumstance, such disputes are taking place over a fait accompli and will therefore lead nowhere.

The underground terminal, to be named Ho Guom, is to be located just meters from the historical lake, according to the capital city’s urban transport master plan. The terminal’s blueprint was in fact introduced over a decade ago, and the project was approved by Hanoi City’s government in 2008, according to news website zing.vn. As per the project, the three-floor terminal is 150 meters long, 21.4 meters wide, and is built at a depth of 17.45 meters. The left side of the terminal is only 10 meters from Ho Guom.

Given its location inside Hanoi’s Old Quarter right at Ho Guom, it is no wonder that protests over the terminal project have become so noisy, especially after the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and a committee of the National Assembly voiced their objection lately.

In a document sent to local media on August 24, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism says it has repeatedly asked Hanoi City to reconsider the site for the terminal, suggesting that it be moved eastward from the lake so as not to spoil the scenery of the heritage site, according to Thanh Tra news site.

In fact, for seven years on end from 2010 to 2017, the culture ministry voiced its objection in its documents sent to Hanoi authorities, according to Dan Tri. In 2010, the ministry in a correspondence sent to Hanoi City demanded that the gates to the would-be terminal be moved eastward, since they were planned right at the side of the lake within the protective zone of the site. In 2016, the ministry issued a new warning to Hanoi City, saying the approved construction would encroach on the protective zone of the special national heritage site. As its suggestions have fallen to the deaf ear, the ministry most recently has urged the city government to make a report to the Prime Minister for a final say on the issue.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly Committee on Culture, Education, Adolescents, and Children has also voiced its strong objection to the lakeside construction. In a document just sent to the NA Standing Committee and the Prime Minister, the committee calls for a rethink over the plan, according to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper.

The NA committee in its document also asks Hanoi City to continue its study to have full appraisal and assessment of the project’s impacts on the heritage site, the scenery and the environment before making a report to the Prime Minister for consideration.

Many experts side with the NA committee and the culture ministry.

Duong Trung Quoc, an outspoken NA deputy and a historian, says on Thanh Tra news site that Hanoi City needs to rethink the site for the terminal. “The space around Ngoc Son Temple (on the lake) is too narrow (for a terminal),” Quoc is quoted as saying. He added the construction process and future operation of the terminal will have bad consequences on the site.

Tran Huy Anh, a member of Hanoi City Architects Association, says on the website of the Voice of Vietnam radio station that the pedestrian quarter around Ho Guom is already crowded, so the metro terminal right at the side would result in a surge of arrivals, piling pressure on the urban living space there. “Exceeding the threshold would lead to conflicts and risks and other disasters that are irrecoverable,” he is quoted by vov.vn.

But proponents for the projects are also numerous.

Nguyen Ngoc Tien, a researcher on Hanoi, says in Lao Dong newspaper that if the terminal can coexist with the heritage site, there is no reason why it should be relocated. He references similar cases around the world, saying that right in front of Louvre Paris and Opera Paris there are still metro stations.

Architect Dao Ngoc Nghiem, vice chair of Hanoi City Urban Planning and Development Society, says in the paper that building a metro terminal at Ho Guom is necessary and convenient for commuters. According to the architect, preservation does not mean maintaining the status quo, as new activities can be added to improve the value of the heritage site.

In the same chorus, the news site Vnexpress in an op-ed says that preservation should not be interpreted as making the preserved site a museum. “A heritage site should be a living being, so it needs to be connected with the modern-age rhythms instead of being cordoned off in a glass house,” says the online paper.

Earlier, Hanoi City conducted a poll in March among locals on the plan to build the lakeside terminal, and according to local media, as many as 90% of respondents approved of the project.

Despite the controversies, there will likely no change to the terminal plan, which is seen as a fait accompli.

In a letter sent to the culture ministry, Hanoi City’s government stresses that in terms of technical and safety factors, the location for the terminal cannot be altered, according to Thanh Tra.

Le Trung Hieu, deputy director of Hanoi City’s Urban Railway Management Board, asserts that the terminal project does not encroach on Ho Guom. “In reality, there is no other option for the terminal and the metro tunnel, because the site for the terminal is also closely aligned to the metro route and the two adjacent terminals, one at Hang Dau Flower Garden and the other on Hang Bai Street,” Hieu is quoted by Nguoi Lao Dong as saying.

Whether the planned site for Ho Guom Terminal stays put or not would have to wait for a final say of the Prime Minister, but it is likely that there will hardly be any change given all the preparations for not only the terminal but the entire metro project over the years. In this case, however, it goes without saying that there remain constant conflicts between preservation and development. The key point is how to minimize the conflict and to ensure harmony between them so that one will not hinder the other. “There is no reason a new terminal and a heritage site cannot thrive hand in hand as a significant plus for Hanoi,” says Vnexpress.

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