Official defends Yangon high-rise review as more results due

A member of the Yangon high-rise inspection committee charged with a city-wide review of high-rise projects has defended the controversial inspections, saying they are a “one off”, as developers brace for the second batch of results to be released tomorrow.

Following a two-month blanket suspension on construction at all projects with nine floors or more, the committee released its first round of results last week, telling 12 developers to drastically change their designs, according to documents seen by The Myanmar Times.

On July 21, the Yangon Region government will submit reports on 20 more projects to the cabinet, said spokesperson U Ye Min Oo.

Dozens more projects are still under review – in addition to 64 projects under construction, more than 100 projects that had received principal permits from Yangon City Development Committee have also been suspended.

“The committee is inspecting the buildings twice a week, as efficiently as we can. We will submit our inspection reports to the regional government, which will discuss them and issue instructions to YCDC’s Department of Engineering (Building),” U Ye Min Oo said.

The committee works between 1pm and 6pm, he said, so the number of reviews released each week will vary, as some projects take longer to assess than others.

Developers have grown increasingly frustrated with the review, as their projects have now been suspended for more than two months, pushing up costs and creating a climate of uncertainty. Some companies have been forced to lay off construction workers.

U Ye Min Oo said the committee has already inspected 64 buildings and have ordered major changes to 12 projects, while others have been told to make small changes such as modifying drainage systems, building car parks or improving fire protection.

Developers ordered to make major changes to the size or scale of their projects say they will write to the government in protest. Many are likely to lose out, as they have relied on presales to fund their projects and will now be forced to renegotiate with buyers, and to offer refunds.

This is a serious problem, said U Win Naing, chair of Pyae Soan Win Naing Company, who was told to cut the number of floors at his 31-storey project by an unspecified amount, to avoid obstructing a view of Shwedagon Pagoda.

“We have sold a lot of apartments through a pre-purchase system and have spent between K7 and K8 billion kyat on the project, including bank loans. We are preparing to present a petition, to ask the government to reconsider its decision,” he said. “If it does not, our lives will be destroyed, because we will be unable to repay our bank loans.”

U Myo Myint, a member of one of the inspection teams, said policies often change when governments change, but admitted that conflicts between pre-purchase buyers and contractors are likely.

For some, including U Kyaw Kyaw Naing of i-Green Construction, disputes are almost certain. The government has told his company to reduce the number of floors in its residential project from 12.5 to six.

“We have sold all 33 apartments through presales, but when the government ordered all high-rise projects to be suspended [in May], some of the buyers did not come to pay the money. I will ask the government to cover the losses,” he said.

U Ye Min Oo said the committee is not responsible for handling developer feedback, as its mandate is simply to check that projects comply with draft urban plans. Developers can send their request letter to the Department of Engineering (Building), the Yangon Region government or the Union government, he said.

Developers have accused the local government of lacking transparency because its assessment criteria were not made public, but U Ye Min Oo said the review mostly followed existing YCDC high-rise building standards.

The committee has also considered the impact of the projects on the city and its neighbourhoods, he said, including the impact on local residents in the area, on traffic and on fire safety.

“We have been inspecting the technical standards of buildings and their impact on the city,” he said. “If a project seems to present a danger to the city’s character or to residential areas, even if the construction is sound, we will tell the company to make changes.”

He said the committee will now begin to assess projects that were recently approved but have not yet started construction, while keeping high-level urban development plans firmly in mind.

“Under the last government, officials wanted to build more high-rises in Yangon with no thought for factors such as traffic, population growth, or the environment,” he said.

“They only thought about the engineering process and were willing to give permits if the developer could build a solid building with the right construction materials. They did not consider smart urban development or sustainability.”

Once the committee has checked that recently approved buildings fit with draft urban development plans, it will feed the reports back to the government, which will draw up new rules and regulations, he said. These rules will be aimed at promoting urban development in Yangon, and YCDC will be granted sole power to approve new projects.

“We will write new rules and regulations, to ensure that new projects will fit into our urban development plans. Many officials from YCDC are involved in the new committee, and we will make sure that in future nobody will be asked to knock down floors after they have received permission to build,” he said.

“This is a one-off. After this, developers will know what they are allowed to do, and what they cannot do. But we needed to check all the projects [approved by the former government]. Some developers may lose out, but the review will be finished soon.”

U Yan Aung, general manager of Asia Construction, said it is difficult and expensive to knock down floors once they have been built, while developers who have not yet started building will find it much easier to accept design changes.

“To reduce traffic and help to make Yangon a green city, the government should minimise high-rises in the downtown area, but should only ask companies to knock down floors that have already been built if it is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Officials should have discussed their decisions with the companies, he said. “This review will be bad for investment as the government has lost the trust of investors and developers.”

YCDC plans to hold a press conference to explain the review and to outline the government’s new construction policies, according to secretary Daw Hlaing Maw Oo, who said the event will take place “shortly after Martyrs’ Day”, which was celebrated yesterday.

 

Source: The Myanmar Times

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