– Ger area residents to gain access to service centers and rental apartment program –
Trans. by M.ZOLJARGAL
|The following is an interview with Ulaanbaatar’s Deputy Mayor in charge of Infrastructure P.Bayarkhuu about Ulaanbaatar development in 2018.|
Can we start the interview with infrastructural development projects planned for 2018 in Ulaanbaatar?
Numerous infrastructural projects for ger area redevelopment, construction, road works, land acquisition and public transportation have been planned for this year. Of which, several are already in progress.
The capital has been severely hit by air and soil pollution. I believe one way to tackle the issues would be through building apartment towns in ger area. What is the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar’s plan on this?
Today, 48 percent of the city’s 1.3 million residents are living in convenient apartment buildings, while the remaining 52 percent in ger area do not even have access to the central pipeline system. This problem is heavily contributing to not only air pollution, soil degradation, and inadequate engineering systems in the ger area itself, but also to the pace of overall urban development.
Ger area redevelopment projects will run in three different parts, which have been categorized as the main areas affected by air pollution. The areas were divided as part of the Ulaanbaatar City Master Plan 2020 and Development Approaches for 2030 (approved by Parliament), and bilateral order of the Minister of Environment and Tourism and Ulaanbaatar Mayor in 2017. The three areas will each have different redevelopment projects. First one is the central ger area where apartment construction will be the main project, whereas the second part will be redeveloped into an area with service centers whose infrastructure will be laid in parts through a modern technology redevelopment, which will focus on improving livability, will take place in the third area, located in the outskirts of the city. Ulaanbaatar has announced 2018 as the year to improve living environment by further engaging residents. One notable project is definitely going to be building the service centers.
How many ger area households will gain access to central engineering services once the service centers open?
A comprehensive solution for fighting air and soil pollution will be the service centers, which can be explained as partial infrastructural hubs. This center will provide central heating, electricity, drinking water, and sewerage system for them. This approach is currently used in many countries and has been proven to be the most effective. A total of 50 service centers are planned for construction throughout ger areas.
Five billion MNT has been allocated from the capital budget 2018 for building two service centers, one in Chingeltei District’s 7th khoroo, and the other in Sukhbaatar District’s 18th khoroo in the first place. Their feasibility studies are already completed, and the construction will launch in April, following the general and partial plan. The two billion CNY grant-aid promised from China, which was budgeted in the previous government’s ruling, as well as 192 billion MNT required for ger area redevelopment are all ready for use. Parliament, the government, the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, and related ministries will work on the projects mentioned above all together, according to an integrated policy.
What changes will the service centers bring?
The city hasn’t seen a notable decrease in air pollution in the past decade, despite the large portion of the budget spent on it. Although housing projects relocated many ger area households into apartments in the past years, the issues around the area were not solved. The service centers will offer an option for the households to still have their homes where they are, but with access to central pipeline systems. We trust that it will bring a visible change in air and soil pollution. Families will have to dedicate a small part of their land, just as all other households, for the space required for the center’s construction first. Each center can be built in rather short time, six to eight months.
Also, if the central pipeline system is extended to those areas, the households can be connected to them as well, and function both ways when required. The state will build schools, kindergartens, roads and green areas in the spare parts of the public land for the service center. In short, these areas will develop into what resembles a private town.
Although the state will be responsible for building the infrastructure, the households will play an active part in the maintenance, as they will sign contracts on it. Therefore, the location for the service center will be chosen based on the request of the residents. Their main duty will be to make sure their houses have the least possible heat loss if none. Not one ger will be set up in the area as a new household, once the service center opens. We expect that it will prevent 200 to 300 chimneys and wooden toilets from getting added to the community. Ger areas will be much more livable, and see a notable difference once the service center project succeeds.
Looks like infrastructure issues will be sorted out in ger areas soon. I heard that housing loans are being discussed to be issued to residents wishing to build private houses. What can you tell us about it?
Currently, housing loans are available only for apartment purchases. Specific organizations in the sector are studying about the opportunity to make the housing loan available for building houses.
The constructed rental apartment buildings will be open for privatization in the long run, is that correct?
Construction of the rental apartments and affordable apartments for low-income households will start this spring, as part of the central ger area redevelopment project. In the first stage, the rental apartment building will be built on five hectares of land in Songinokhairkhan District’s 6th khoroo. Overall, this project is targeted for young families. They will be able to pay a small amount of monthly rent and then fully privatize it in 10 to 15 years, while the affordable apartment project will be tailored to meet the residents’ income and enable them for using their apartments for home-based businesses. Last year, the legislation-related works and studies were mainly done, while this year, more works focused on the implementation will take place.
The groundbreaking work of an apartment building for 1,000 families took place last year in Zuun Ail. How’s the progress?
Yes, rental apartments for 1,008 families will be constructed in that area, with funding of the Premier of China. The construction itself will start this spring, and what makes this a special project is its direct exchange of land for an apartment.
I saw quite many residents complaining about how the municipality hasn’t launched any major projects lately. Can you talk more on the city’s plan for larger projects planned for 2018?
Ulaanbaatar built overpasses for the first time in the past few years. This time, Mongolian engineers and companies will build another overpass at the East Central Intersection. Also, a road that will provide direct travel to Bayankhoshuu and Zuun Salaa through Da Khuree market and Shar Khad is planned for construction.
Last year, the work to upgrade the largest and most dated road bridges in the city started. Sonsgolon and Bayanzurkh bridges will be completely upgraded by 2019, while Yarmag bridge is scheduled for earlier completion by the end of this year. We believe these works will improve the traffic flow and even contribute to a more agreeable look of the capital.
What actions did the municipality plan for reducing traffic congestion this year? Prohibiting left-turns on Peace Avenue didn’t succeed. What premise was used as a base for the decision?
Ulaanbaatar had 305,000 cars in 2013 when the weekly driving restriction became effective. Now, the city over half a million, which proves the restriction will not be sufficient for keeping a moderate amount of traffic alone. The left-turn ban was the primary step towards the roadblock system, widely used in metropolitans. Traffic in between the West and East Central Intersections were expected to significantly fall from the left-turn rule, as these turns were the main cause of congestions at intersections. Drivers plan their travel and drive accordingly in other countries, while drivers in Mongolia haven’t yet adapted to that culture. A false report that massive budget, including bribes, were spent on the left-turn rule was spread among the public. However, the official inspections clearly showed that no public budget was dedicated to it.
The Ulaanbaatar Traffic Control Center launched UBTraffic.mn smartphone application last year as well. With the app, drivers were offered to check the destination of their planned travel, traffic flow, intersection congestion, report on road accidents, road repairs, as well as paid parking options. In general, road traffic issues will not be solved with new rules on few areas of the road, but rather with a comprehensive, big-scale system project.
This interview was originally published in Mongolian on the official website of the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office.