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Payout key to Old Quarter resettlement success

Update: February, 02/2015 - 09:09

Adequate compensation and income-generating opportunities are key factors that will determine the success of Ha Noi's plan to resettle thousands of residents from its Old Quarter, experts and residents say.

The capital city will start the construction of a resettlement area next month as part of a project to move some 26,200 residents (6,500 households) from the city's overcrowded Old Quarter by 2020. They are to be resettled in apartment buildings in Long Bien District's Viet Hung Urban Area.

According to the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee, the project aims to decrease population density, improve living conditions and preserve heritage sites in the Old Quarter.

Viet Nam News spoke to authorities, experts and residents on the issue.

Duong Duc Tuan

Duong Duc Tuan - Chairman of Hoan Kiem District People's Committee

Can you give us an outline of the Old Quarter Resettlement Plan?

The Old Quarter Resettlement plan is an important policy that aims to ease the high population density in the area from 823 people per ha to about 500 per hectare. This number was mentioned in the Ha Noi urban plan approved by the Prime Minister in 1998 and has remained unchanged since. Yet, despite its importance, the resettlement plan has been on hold until now due to several obstacles in the implementation process.

The resettlement plan has two stages. The first seeks to move 1,530 households, or about 6,120 residents living in dangerously downgraded houses and apartments, schools, heritage sites, ancient houses with high cultural value and in need of preservation, overcrowded buildings or land clearance zones for the city's projects.

Those households, along with residents that wish to move out of the Old Quarter, will be resettled in the new Viet Hung urban area.

The district People's Committee will start carrying out transport infrastructure, urban infrastructure and social infrastructure projects in the resettlement area from March. Residential buildings will be built from the third quarter of the year and be completed in the fourth quarter of 2017.

What kind of living conditions can relocated residents expect?

The Viet Hung resettlement area is a modern urban model designed in consultations with authorities and architects of Toulouse City in France. The aim is to create an attractive living space that will influence Old Quarter residents to move there.

The resettlement area will be built with convenient vehicle and walking routes. Trading will be promoted in the first two floors of the buildings in tandem with providing public space. In short, the residents will have the chance to resettle in a new commercial area not unlike the Old Quarter, which will help create jobs and add public values that the Old Quarter had failed to provide so far.

We are even considering helping residents who resettle in the upper levels have a shop in the first two levels, but the work is quite complicated and time-consuming as we have to balance plans in two big areas: the Old Quarter and the Viet Hung resettlement area.

Tran Nhu Trung

Tran Nhu Trung, Deputy General Director of Tan Hoang Minh Group

Do you think the relocation programme for residents of the Ha Noi's Old Quarter will serve them well?

I think relocation and improving living standards for Old Quarter residents has become a mandatory task for the city. The infrastructure in this area is overwhelmed. For example, some residents don't even have the most basic, hygienic bathrooms. A house is supposed to be where people can relax and rest after a long day at work and it's only possible when people have their own space and privacy.

Creating jobs for relocated residents has always been a challenging task despite the promises authorities typically make. Do you think the city's plan is realistic and doable?

This is a problem for both the city and the Old Quarter's residents. The city has made progress in identifying major socio-economic issues related to the residents' ability to sustain livelihoods and is trying to address them.

It will not be easy for the residents since we are talking about thousands of households who are currently running thousands of businesses to earn their living.

Compared to the Old Quarter where locations are prime and the flow of customers is excellent, doing business somewhere else will prove to be more difficult. For starters, the city will have to determine the current income for the residents. Then, several other factors will have to be considered for the programme to work. What will residents have to do to generate an acceptable income at the new location compared with their earlier earnings? How long will it take them to get there? How many among them will be able to accomplish the task?

It is worth mentioning that even if the city managed to answer all these questions, it will cover just the monetary aspect. Other aspects like social and cultural impacts must also be assessed.

Is there something else you would like to share regarding the relocation programme?

In order to preserve the Old Quarter and address the overburdened infrastructure, compulsory relocation is necessary. This has been done both in developing and developed countries, but the city must understand that the policy will have significant impacts on the lives of thousands of households.

Therefore, the programme should integrate economic incentives with other benefits to encourage the residents to participate. This will smoothen the implementation process and it likelier to succeed.

For example, people must be able to see a vast difference in the level of developed infrastructure in relocated areas when compared to the Old Quarter, while the cost of moving should remain within what they consider the acceptable range.

Perhaps, residents willing to move first should be rewarded with extra privileges and benefits.

Last, and possibly the most important factor, is compensation. The closer it is to market value the more residents will feel content and happy to support the programme.

Nguyen Thi Que, 65, resident of address 47 Hang Bac Street

The building my family is residing is among the oldest in the city. It i more than 100 years old and under the State's preservation category.

In total, there are six families, including my own, living here, cramped up in this building not more than 200sq.m in area. My family alone has eight members from three different generations, all living in a 18sq.m room plus a tiny attic.

Every time it rains we were all concerned the building or part of it will collapse. Water is leaking in from all directions and other household's coal stoves are a health risk for the kids. That's why we decided to support the relocation programme.

But I do understand why most of the Old Quarter's residents are hesitant to move. We would all love to live in bigger, newer buildings but we don't know how we will manage to make a living there. — VNS

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