VietNamNet Bridge – The Ha Noi People’s Committee last week gave a green light to a metro station near Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake, inciting a heated discussion on the potential impacts on one of the most sacred areas of the city. Viet Nam News reporter Le Quynh Anh spoke to both the investor and experts.
Could you give us the background information about this project and why it has generated such controversy?
Luu Xuan Hung, deputy director of Ha Noi Urban Railway Project management board
Preparations to build the Nam Thang Long-Tran Hung Dao urban railway, dubbed as Ha Noi Subway Line 2, started as early as 2008 when it got the approval from the municipal People’s Committee. Over the last four years, we have held countless workshops to consult with other line ministries, local authorities and experts as well as communities on how to develop this railway. So I am quite surprised at the reaction from a number of experts at the recent approval of the People’s Committee for the location of one of Line 2’s stations. Why did these experts not speak out earlier when we allocated ample of time for comments? In fact, our projects have received positive comments from many stakeholders.
According to the final decision, metro station C9 will be located underneath Ha Noi Electricity Company on Dinh Tien Hoang Street which embraces the city’s signature landmark Hoan Kiem Lake. We believe what has caused the controversy is the proximity of the station to the lake, because of its association with a tale of how this city was born. However, we had intensive consultations to make sure every major concern was covered. In addition, we also received support from the Japanese Government to conduct several studies on the implications of the project.
Is it the right place to put this railway stop at the location you mentioned and how about its impacts on the local landscape and its connection to the bigger public transportation network?
Hung: First, this railway line has been developed in sync with another four railway lines under an umbrella plan to establish an urban railway system for Ha Noi by 2020. This means we have taken into consideration how this line will connect with other lines so the whole system can work efficiently. Let me be clear that despite the fact that C9 is located in the heart of the city, it will not serve as the main station hub where multiple railway lines converge. In fact, it is dedicated to serve Subway Line 2 only. This helps dismiss one argument that the presence of this station may cause an overflow in the area near the lake, which is already quite busy with the current transport system.
In addition, technically speaking, we believe this is the best place to put a metro station. In the absence of C9 station, the distance between the C8 and C10 stations would be 2.5km, much higher than the technical standard of 1km between two consecutive stations. Then comes the question, why don’t we move the location away from the lake, such as to some squares nearby, as some suggested. This would be technically impossible because it would not meet ‘radius-of-curvature’ requirement, an important parameter in developing a metro line. Not to mention that construction at this location would involve minimum site clearance.
Of course, when we bring in a new infrastructure work, we have to calculate how it will fit into the local landscape and planning. Speaking of that, I do not think this metro station will cause any major landscape disruptions because it will be completely underground, except for the exits and ventilation systems. We are still exploring the best options on where to put these supporting facilities. And we also plan to decorate the exits with trees and lighting so actually it will give a facelift to the neighbourhood.
Pham Sy Liem, Deputy Chairman of the Viet Nam Association of Construction
As this is such an important project we are very surprised that our association has not been consulted about it. We have only heard about the recent approval of the C9 metro station through the media. Now I am told that this metro station is not a converging point for a number of different metro lines. It is kind of irrational to me because any metro station at the heart of the city is supposed to be built like that. For example, on New Year’s Eve, everyone will flock to the city’s centre but I am very sceptical that one metro line could handle such a huge flow of passengers. This reflects a chronic problem in the way we often develop infrastructure projects – we rarely adopt a demand-oriented approach. Do we really have a decent projection of the flow of prospective passengers before setting up this kind of project? Not to mention that developers have not provided a compelling account for why among all these metro lines they have singled out Subway Line 2 to be the only line that stops near the Returned Sword Lake along its route. There is a concern that the demand to travel to the city’s centre seems larger from the other direction rather than from Nam Thang Long (the starting point of Subway Line 2).
In case there is a change of plan and the metro station in the vicinity of Returned Sword Lake becomes a converging point, the current location will not work because it does not have sufficient space. Even if the plan remains the same, there is no reason why the station cannot be located somewhere else nearby. The developers talk about the radium of curvature restrictions that hinder them from moving the station to other squares nearby. As a senior technical expert, I can say it is absolutely feasible. I stick to my original proposal that the metro station should be moved further away to areas which have a bigger space but are still in walking distance of Returned Sword Lake.
A metro station situated at the centre of the city is rarely built alone without supermarkets or malls, due to the huge flow of passenger in and out. It is a very convenient location for passengers to do some shopping. However, I haven’t seen the development of such facilities at this station in the plan.
Speaking of the whole urban railway system, I am surprised that we are not developing a metro ring rail line that connects the whole city. The lack of one will hold the system back.
There is another concern that we had better leave under Hoan Kiem Lake intact. Why is that and how are you going to address that concern?
Hung: There is another concern that we had better leave the underground of Hoan Kiem Lake intact. We believe this is more based on spiritual rather than geological grounds. Thanks to the advancement of technology, we could construct a metro line in virtually every geological condition. Regarding spiritual concerns, we have consulted carefully with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Institute of Archaeology and they all agreed with our proposed location, which is a safe distance from the area which is dense with historical landmarks. Meanwhile, international experiences have demonstrated that many metro stations around the world have been developed right under historical landmarks. For example, a metro station in India was built right underneath a Buddha statue.
Again, I want to emphasise that we had done our homework before going ahead with this extremely significant project. Along with the construction of the urban railway system, we are also working on reorganising the current bus network in order to optimise the public transportation system in the capital.
Duong Trung Quoc, Historian and National Assembly deputy
The move by the local authorities to build an underground railway so people can have better access to the Old Quarter and its historical landmarks is very welcome.
If this is done properly, it will even help with conservation efforts.
However, the development of underground infrastructures is still very new in Viet Nam and the conservation principles in the country are confined only to the surface. The legal framework is no different as it has barely covered underground work. As construction underground is becoming more and more popular in Viet Nam, I believe we will see a lot of adjustments in the relevant laws soon, so hopefully it will eventually work out.
From a conservation perspective, one of my major concerns is the current location’s delicate link to an area dense with places of historical importance. What makes it even more confusing is that we have not heard about how the planning will impact these historical and archaeological sites. For example, if we are about to build a metro station underneath Dinh Tien Hoang street, we will cut the tie between the Red River which has flown into Returned Sword Lake for centuries. This may jeopardise the lake’s ecosystem and have other implications that we can not predict.
The investors should have backed up their plans with a solid archaeological study. It will not be a surprise to me if this project, when actually being executed, will face many delays as unforeseen archaeological issues rise to surface.
Meanwhile, the metro station will create a change in one of the most sacred areas in the capital, so it is not about technical issues only. Addressing the spiritual concerns is no less important, if not even more so. However, talking about spiritual values are quite challenging because they tend to be very abstract.
Meanwhile, I think the consultation process of the project had not been undertaken properly, because many experts like us and the public were caught by surprise at the news of the construction of this metro station. They say that they have consulted with many stakeholders, but they have not sampled the reaction and feedback from the public. People want to have their say because it touches on their deeply-held spiritual beliefs. I think it is a lesson for all investors that they should do their consultation properly to create a consensus from the public. This is very important for projects of significance such as this one.