CHA head responds to controversy over apartments near UNESCO-listed royal tomb in Gimpo in parliamentary hearing

By Song Seung-hyun
  • Published : Oct 5, 2021 - 17:31
  • Updated : Oct 5, 2021 - 17:33

Across from the royal tomb Jangneung in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, construction of an apartment complex in Incheon’s new town of Geomdan is visible through the tops of the trees. (CHA)
Kim Hyun-mo, head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, answered lawmakers‘ questions about the controversy surrounding apartments near an UNESCO-listed royal tomb in Gimpo during the parliamentary inspection Tuesday.

The Joseon-era royal tomb Jangneung in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, houses the parents of King Injo, the 16th ruler of Joseon, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, along with several other Joseon royal tombs around the country.

According to the CHA, it found out in May that three construction companies -- Daebang Construction, Daekwang Construction and Kumsung BaekJoe Construction -- were building apartment complexes near the tomb in Incheon’s new town Geomdan, without obtaining its permission. The building of structures over 20 meters tall within a 500-meter radius of a designated cultural property requires permission from the CHA. Concerns over this issue are growing as over 3,000 households were scheduled to move into the apartments next year.

Rep. Bae Hyun-jin of the People Power Party questioned why the CHA found out about the issue late in May this year when construction had begun in 2019.

Kim answered the question by casting blame on the Seo-gu Incheon Metropolitan City Office, saying the area near the designated sites was not being directly watched by the agency.

Bae also questioned Kim about the CHA’s allegedly false reporting to UNESCO in July about the current situation of the royal tomb in Gimpo. She asked why the agency reported to UNESCO that there was no illegal construction taking place near the tomb, even after finding out about the firms’ actions in May.

“It was not an official report,” Kim answered.

The CHA explained that it was a form of a survey that is conducted by UNESCO every six years and detailed issues about the designated sites have been discussed separately with the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

Moreover, the CHA’s Royal Palaces and Tombs Center, which submitted the form in July, explained that it did not report illegal construction going on near the tomb because the court had not ruled on the matter at the time.

“Although we see it as an illegal act, the court’s decision still had not been made at the time,” a Royal Palaces and Tombs Center official added.

Addressing Bae’s question on whether the other 39 Joseon tombs that were designated together with Jangneung could be delisted if UNESCO sees the apartments in Incheon as harming the value of the designated site, the CHA head answered affirmatively.

“They can all be influenced. This is why we are having a discussion with UNESCO and trying to stop the development.” Kim said.

The CHA expects to receive improvement plans from the construction firms by Sunday.

“We have not received any yet,” the Royal Palaces and Tombs Center official added.