The chairman of Khanh Hoa Province in south-central Vietnam did not pull any punches as he defended a controversial zoning decision for the provincial capital of Nha Trang, saying it is shortsighted to oppose a plan that will enable the city to rival the U.S. island of Hawaii.
The Vietnamese province should steadfastly implement the plan so that Nha Trang, a destination favored by international tourists thanks to its beautiful beaches, can “become even more beautiful than Hawaii,” Nguyen Chien Thang said as he met local voters on Thursday.
Scores of skyscrapers have been constructed on several streets in Nha Trang in recent years, forming what experts say is a towering ‘wall of high-rises’ that could hurt the city’s ecosystem.
The controversial zoning, approved by Thang in October 2014, is intended for the eastern parts of Tran Phu and Pham Van Dong Streets, where several resort facilities will be built on certain beaches and the surface of Nha Trang Bay itself, as well as Chong and Do Islets, which are supposed to be kept intact.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper earlier this week published opinions by some experts and local officials who warned that the city is gradually losing its tourist appeal due to such skyscraper growth.
“These are just the opinions of a few people, not a majority,” Thang said during the meeting, referring to the Tuoi Tre report.
The chairman asserted that the planning was done “as per majority consensus and the law,” adding Nha Trang "is a municipality, not an ecotourism area.”
Thang said in the future Nha Trang will become a special municipality like Hong Kong and Singapore, and it thus needs to be developed in a different way from an ecotourism area.
“Many people say Nha Trang is an ecotourism area, which is incorrect,” he said. “If you want ecotourism development, please go to Bai Dai or Van Phong Bay.”
Bai Dai is a less-crowded beach located between Khanh Hoa’s Cam Ranh International Airport and Nha Trang, whereas Van Phong is some 30km north of the beach city.
He said opposition to the construction of high-rises in Nha Trang is a “shortsighted argument” that will prevent Khanh Hoa from developing.
“We still listen to these opinions but will not follow them,” he asserted.
“Behind the zoning is a national committee and even the Prime Minister so it is inappropriate to listen to a few voices.”
Thang quickly left the meeting after reiterating that “we will keep on developing so that Nha Trang can be more beautiful than Hawaii,” which displeased many voters.
Architect Nguyen Van Loc, a former director of the Khanh Hoa construction department and now chairman of the province’s architecture association, said he is “very upset” over the chairman’s speech.
Loc is a member of a committee, which consists of many former provincial leaders and architecture pundits, set up to provide a critical review of the plan.
“And yet the province’s chairman just called us a myopic minority, which is very sad,” Loc said.
Chairman Thang said the plan has received majority consensus but “he could not say so when the planning has never been open for public comment,” Loc added.
Architect Nguyen Hoang, deputy chairman of the province’s architecture association, also said the chairman must provide proof for his claim that the planning is backed by the majority and the government.
Hoang said the Nha Trang beach planning should be carefully reviewed by the Khanh Hoa administration as “any mistakes will be impossible to be corrected.”
Huynh Ngoc Bong, the spokesperson of the Khanh Hoa administration, told Tuoi Tre the chairman must have referred to the “planning for Nha Trang approved by the government in 2012,” rather than the new zoning.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in April 2014, Thang also said Nha Trang will be “more developed than Hong Kong in the future,” thanks to its ecosystem potential.