MACAU (1999-2009) / URBAN PLANNING OF COTAI: 3. GOVERNMENT EFFORTS IN THE ALLEVIATION OF PUBLIC DISSATISFACTION
With the adoption of the new plans to turn Cotai into a “chessboard” of casinos, conflicts between the government and the society have worsened. Not only have housing needs been ignored, plans for providing public spaces have also been sacrificed.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, the Chief Executive established the Center for the Studies of Quality of Life in 2005, to analyze the major social issues affecting the quality of life in Macau, and propose possible solutions to rectify the problems. The centre was later renamed the Research Centre for Sustainable Development Strategies (CEEDS) and its scope of work was expanded. However, no particular actions or results were publicly announced since its establishment. The department seemed to be a false front to display to the public that the government was trying to collect their opinions.
However, later events forced the government to take real actions. The conversion of land use to accommodate the mega casino resort facilities has also involved a piece of land in Cotai, which the Portuguese government had originally exclusively reserved for the extension of the campus of the Macau University of Science and Technology. In 2008, one member of the Legislative Council of Macau raised the issue of the failure to enforce the provisions of the original plan, in the Legislative Assembly, and criticized the government for changing the purpose of the land use without any announcement or public consultation. Moreover, it was revealed that the construction of the casino projects had already started when the negotiations with the University were still in progress. The government suffered serious questions of integrity and credibility and there was an increasing erosion of political support in society, which initiated after the expose of the Ao Man Long corruption case.
To win back the public’s trust, the government finally placed mechanism for public consultation on major government policies. The Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau, involved in the case, quickly drafted a new proposal of increasing its planning and administrative transparency and constructing a platform for public expression. The bureau also revised the Land Law of Macao to meet the new urban planning requirements, based on the suggestions of the public, through consultation by CEEDS.
The research centre now was conceived with the main task of provide arguments and evidence for the appropriate formulation and co-ordination of strategies, targets and public policies, based on the findings of the studies commissioned. It was envisioned that through proper public consultation, the strategies suggested could be used as a means to refine and accelerate the existing policies of the government. Hence, the concerns of the population, particularly the more urgent ones, can be dealt with quickly.
Five major public consultations were conducted, where two were related to land use planning. The public had been keen in voicing their ideas in the consultations. Transport and public housing were top issues mentioned. Residents were also concerned with Macau’s positioning, economy, public space and environmental protection. Many urged for the better protection of historic sites. Others requested that casinos should be kept away from residential and school areas. An architect, Rui Leao, even submitted a detailed proposal identifying crowded roads, lack of public space, withering traditional businesses and fast casino growth as the major urban planning problems. The first overall urban planning guideline, since the handover in 1999, was drafted in a consultation booklet called the Macao Urban Concept Plan, after taking into consideration of the public’s opinions. The outline proposes development strategies with the aim to turn Macau into a “World of Vitality”.
Regardless of the efforts paid by the government, some academics and professionals criticized the form of public participation used in the production of the Outline Plan. The criticisms included that the two-month consultation period was too short and since it was the first formal large-scale urban planning consultation exercise in Macau, the population had no idea about what urban planning involved. Also, important definitions of terms, such as ‘sustainable developments’ and ‘outline concept plan’, and the logic behind the various development options were not explained. Apart from that, the fact that the government consultation booklets were issued in only Chinese and Portuguese made it difficult for international scholars to offer comments. In addition, a consultation on future urban planning strategies was also conducted in November 2008 with the publication of the Report on Macao’s Urban Planning System. This document was more detailed and technical than the Urban Concept Plan but the consultation period was shorter at only one month. It can be concluded that regardless of the scope, degree, and intensity of public involvement, the efforts made in this direction are too limited to be classified as real participation.
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