By Khine Kyaw
Marga Landmark has agreed to follow the government’s order to terminate the project Dagon City 1 luxury development.
“While everything we have done is proper, legal and for the best interest of our customers and the public, we respect the public sentiment, particularly that of the Sangha members, and we are working with the government toward an arrangement that upholds the international contract between Myanmar and foreign investors,” said a senior executive of Marga Landmark who asked not to be named.
The Union government decided on July 7 to terminate the project, situated 3,000 feet from Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most sacred landmark, following months of protests by cultural conservationists. The conservationists feared that the development would ruin the pagoda.
After several civil society groups and Buddhist monks mounted a protest campaign against the project, officials from the Yangon Region government promised in late June that the project would be cancelled soon. According to the Union government’s announcement this week, the government is negotiating with investors to ensure the project’s termination will not harm their investment.
Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), a community of local architects set out to conserve cultural sites, welcomed the government's decision to cancel the development. According to YHT, the decision respects public concerns and demonstrates a growing commitment to conserving Yangon's unique built and cultural heritage for the city’s financial and social benefit.
The protection of the Shwedagon Pagoda and its setting within green public space must be a paramount consideration in any future urban plan for the city, YHT members said.
“We now have an excellent opportunity to take a step back and think carefully about the future – not only of the old War Office compound but of the entire historic city. The Shwedagon area, the historic downtown, the War Office compound, issues of traffic and transport, the railway station, the waterfront – all these things should be considered together, not separately,” said Thant Myint-U, founder and chairman of YHT.
“We welcome international and local investment in Yangon’s regeneration and modernisation within a proper framework, one that will stand the test of time and conserve the city's uniqueness,” he said.
Notably, Dagon City 1 is the first foreign project to be terminated by the Thein Sein administration. Since the government took office, it has sanctioned only the US$3.6 billion Myitsone dam project, which has been suspended by an order issued by President Thein Sein since September 2011.
Poised to attract increasing foreign investment, Myanmar is experiencing growing resistance to some projects as locals fear their social and environmental impact.
Last week, it was reported that a coal-fired power plant in Ngayokekaung, Ayeyawady Region, was suspended. The report was flatly denied by Ayeyawady Region Electricity and Industry Minister Saw Mya Thein. “This project hasn’t started yet, and there is no plan to suspend it,” he said.
A1 Co, owned by regional MP Yan Win and India-based Tata Power Co, have been contracted to develop the coal-fired power plant.
According to the executive from Marga Landmark, the developer is working with the government on a mutually agreed scheme that will satisfactorily resolve all matters pertaining to its customers and investors.
“We shall conduct all dealings with our customers in compliance with the agreements signed once we finalise the details of the scheme with the Myanmar government. We understand that our legal rights are protected under the Foreign Investment Law, and we foresee a satisfactory resolution for all parties,” he said.
Despite its acceptance of project termination, the developer defends misconceptions about the mixed-use development.
“We are absolutely certain our plans do not present any negative impacts to our surroundings. As an international developer, Marga Landmark has the utmost respect for the culture of Myanmar,” he said.
Marga Landmark’s shareholders and directors are comprised of world-class professionals from Hong Kong, Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The 22-acre complex located in the former National Defence College and No 1 Motor Transport Battalion (War Office) Compound adjacent to the Shwedagon Pagoda, was designed to include branded retail zones, international standard A-grade offices, a five-star hotel and exquisitely appointed apartments. The development was also meant to include several 8-story residential towers with apartments in various styles ranging in size from 600 square feet to 2,000 square feet, as well as a selection of penthouses.
The executive said the firm has obtained the necessary permissions for its plans from the Myanmar Investment Commission, Yangon Region government, Yangon City Development Committee and High-rise Inspection Committee, including for the height limit of Dagon City 1. He said the Myanmar Engineering Society also agreed after a comprehensive review that its plans and technology are safe, proper and would not affect the Shwedagon Pagoda.
“Our intended use of a diaphragm wall, an advanced, proven technology used by many developed countries and cities, would not affect any building more than 3 feet away. As the Shwedagon is 3,000 feet away from the project, it would certainly not be affected. There would only be one basement story, the same as many other existing buildings in the area. And we never intended to use underground water,” he said.
Despite the cancellation of the project, he insisted that the firm will continue its social welfare programmes and continue to build world-class projects elsewhere in Myanmar.