Hmawbi residents in the dark over new city

Hmawbi township feels a long way from Yangon. Located just beyond the city’s northern limits, it is well known for supplying vegetables and fruit to the markets in Myanmar’s commercial capital.

The main roads are busy but the area is rural and underdeveloped. Its tallest buildings are two six-storey towers beside the Hmawbi Myot Ma wholesale market that rise above the single-storey houses in Hmawbi, the principle town.

The township is poor, job opportunities are few and land prices are low, said residents.

“Though Hmawbi is an old town, it is far from Yangon and has not been developed. The Technological University of Hmawbi brings in many students, but doesn’t create job opportunities for residents like a successful industrial zone would,” said local resident U Sein Aye.

However, according to a new development plan, this is set to change.

In June, Yangon’s Mayor U Hla Myint revealed an ambitious proposal to expand the city at an estimated cost of K8.178 trillion (US$6.4 billion). The draft has been developed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Yangon City Development Committee.

It proposes dividing the former capital into seven sections: North East Yangon, South West Yangon, Dala township, Thanlyin township, Htantabin township, Hmawbi township and Hlegu township, and building up each one in turn.

In Hmawbi, around 11,594 acres are set to be developed to house up to 400,000 people. The township is currently home to 244,279 residents according to the 2014 provisional census results.

The project will include new roads, economic and industrial zones, public space for hospitals or parks, a coach terminal, a green zone and high-rise, low-rise and stand alone housing. If implemented, it will transform the township.

But when The Myanmar Times went to Hmawbi earlier this month, most residents said they were unaware of the project, or uncertain of the details and the location.

“We don’t know where this project will be built, but we heard something might be happening in War Nat Chaung village,” said resident U Thi Ha.

Real estate experts said the uncertainty may prevent land prices in the area from rising too fast. Land price speculation in Yangon is rife, particularly in areas earmarked for development. But so far Hmawbi has been largely left alone, they said.

“There are no property dealers in town. As usual, Hmawbi’s property market is free from the eyes of speculators,” said local estate agent Ma Maw.

Others said that since the new city plan was released, speculators have been spoilt for choice.

In addition, real estate speculation has been subdued since the start of the year and is likely to remain quiet until after the elections, as there is a risk the next government may make changes to the expansion plans.

In recent years, large land plots in Hmawbi have been split into smaller areas as the township grows more populated and the number of small and medium businesses rises.

“Because Hmawbi is a long way from the city, small and medium businesses like garment factories and petrol shops are able to prosper, and residents have divided and sold their big plots,” said Daw Khin Swe of Pyay Road in Hmawbi township.

Most of the land in the area is classified as garden land, though in the centre of Hmawbi some plots are permit land.

Houses cannot legally be built on garden land. As a result the price of land in the centre of town is much higher than the garden land beyond, said estate agents. Garden land sells for around K50 million per acre, but permit land can go for as much as K300 million per acre, said U Khin Maung Aye of Shwe Kan Myae real estate agency.

“It is a big difference, but it’s very difficult to change garden land to become permit land,” he said.

Prices have been relatively high in Hmawbi for several years because the township has electricity, good roads and clean water, said residents.

However there is no consistency, said U Sein Aye. “Owners sell their land at whatever price they like. An acre near to the university might be sold for K150 million, but another acre nearby could be sold for K1 billion,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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