Yangon official takes fresh aim at high-rise projects

A yangon official known for his outspoken views has publicly criticised two high-rise projects, including a Singapore-backed condominium, and says he has imminent plans to target several more.

U Khin Hlaing, an executive member of the Yangon City Development Committee, has a history of campaigning against real estate projects . Last year, he was one of the most outspoken figures in a movement against five mixed-use developments beside Yangon’s landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, which were ultimately cancelled by the President’s Office.

He is now “investigating” projects in western Yangon where he is responsible for 10 townships, and plans to name-and-shame developers, he said during a press conference at his office in Yangon City Hall.

“There are high-rise construction projects in the townships I am responsible for. I am collecting data, to find out which ones are breaking the law, and I will announce my findings to the public.”

Those found to be breaking YCDC regulations will be suspended, he said. “I have told parliament the illegal developments should be halted, and that I will take responsibility for this.”

His most immediate target is a high-profile condominium known as 68 Residence, developed by United GP Development. The project includes international investors – it is being built by Singapore’s SoilBuild, and half of its 396 units will be managed by The Ascott Limited, a subsidiary of Singaporean giant CapitaLand.

U Khin Hlaing believes the project should be halted. At 27 storeys, it will be in line with the top of Shwedagon Pagoda, and will block the view, he said. Moreover, it is 100 feet (30 metres) from the Kokkine outdoor swimming pool, built in 1926, he said.

“To build 68 Residence they are digging 50 feet into the ground to build four basement levels, which might impact the pool.”

Chinese-backed Crown Advanced Construction is responsible for building the basements, which will include 404 parking spaces.

“I don’t understand why the Department of Engineering approved this project. According to the draft zoning plan, they should not be allowed to build this high. The head of the zoning committee also works for the Department of Engineering, so he is breaking his own laws.”

YCDC’s Department of Engineering (Building) also advised that the project should not be built, said the department’s deputy director U Nay Win. It is located at a busy junction between Kabar Aye Pagoda Road and Sayar San Road, and will exacerbate congestion along two of the city’s main thoroughfares, he told The Myanmar Times.

“[Yangon Region minister] U Myint Swe approved the 27-storey project, after the developer promised it would not add to the traffic,” U Nay Win said. “The minister issued a construction permit on behalf of our department, though we had advised against it.”

Asked whether the project would block views of the Shwedagon Pagoda, U Than Htay, head of the Department of Engineering (Building), pointed out that the zoning plan has not yet been approved.

“We want zoning rules to come out as soon as possible. If they were in place we would not face such problems, but for now we have no legal grounds to refuse a permit,” he said.

U Soe Lwin, deputy director of the High-rise Inspection Committee ,told The Myanmar Times the project cannot be cancelled, as construction has already begun.

“The developers of 68 Residence will continue to build. They have an official permit, so there is no way to pause or stop the project,” he said, adding, “Sometimes there are politicians who oppose everything.”

A spokesperson for 68 Residence said he has received no communication on the topic. “Our construction is running as usual,” he said.

At the press conference, U Khin Hlaing said he is also targeting a second project within his jurisdiction – a 12-storey development at 74 University Avenue, which The Irrawaddy reported is owned by U Kyaw Myint, chair of the Pansay People’s Militia, an armed group allied with the Tatmadaw.

The project was temporarily suspended by Yangon’s mayor U Hla Myint on January 18, according to an announcement by the Department of Engineering (Building). Three monasteries and several local residents had objected to the high-rise being built in their quiet township, the announcement said.

U Khin Hlaing said the protesters had asked him for help and that he had appealed to his fellow committee members, but piling continued with permission of the Department of Engineering. Finally he appealed to the mayor, during a meeting on January 14.

“The project is in Golden Valley and the road is in a quiet zone. According to the draft zoning plans, buildings here should not exceed four floors, but the department didn’t care and allowed the project to continue,” he said. “I told the mayor that if I cannot make decisions about my own jurisdiction, I will resign from my position.”

Besides being a YCDC committee member, U Khin Hlaing is also a publisher, sells religious robes and owns the Myanmar Big Shops Shopping Mall near to Shwedagon Pagoda.

“Some buildings do not tally with our procedures, but the Department of Engineering (Building) gave them a permit anyway. I don’t understand why – some high-rises are being built in places they shouldn’t be,” he said.

U Nay Win denied the accusation, saying no rules are being broken, and that all applications are scrutinised by YCDC’s executive committee.

“Our committee board must approve each building permit. A permit will not be granted if it doesn’t comply with our procedures,” he told The Myanmar Times.

The department issues permits for projects with up to eight floors. Taller buildings must also receive a special permit from the High-rise Inspection Committee and the Yangon Region government, U Nay Win said.

In 2015, the Department of Engineering (Building) issued 6817 construction permits, of which 39 were for buildings with nine floors or more.

“Our department issues construction permits, but we never use our authority to grant final approval. We always put the projects before committee members, the HIC and U Myint Swe,” said U Nay Win, adding that these checks and balances are sufficient.

“We won’t fight with U Khin Hlaing about this. If he comes to talk to us about it, we will smile,” he said. “His is just a single voice against the entire committee.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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