(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from Seoul city government in paras 6-10; RESTRUCTURES)
SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is considering opening up greenbelt zones in the Seoul metropolitan area to make more land available for housing as part of efforts to help resolve the country's housing supply shortage in the densely populated area, the transport ministry said Wednesday.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it has formed a task force with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Seoul city, Gyeonggi and Incheon regional governments to discuss ways to supply more homes in the capital city and adjacent areas.
In less than a week, the government has changed its stance toward easing the construction ban in the development restriction areas designated by the country to resolve housing shortage problems.
On Friday, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki ruled out the possibility of lifting the restrictions on the greenbelt zones to supply more homes in the greater Seoul area.
But the minister said in an interview with local broadcaster MBC on Tuesday that the government is "reviewing several options to supply more homes and is open to the possibility of lifting the bans on the greenbelt zones following the review, if necessary."
Development restriction areas in Seoul reach about 150 square kilometers, or 25 percent of its total area.
The Seoul metropolitan government has long opposed the idea of developing greenbelt areas, citing the need to protect the environment and avoid excessive expansion of the city.
It reaffirmed such a stance, threatening to boycott the transport ministry-led task force if the issue is on the table.
"Greenbelt zones are the last bastions of Seoul that have been protected even under the wave of development, and they cannot be restored once damaged. It is the firm and consistent stance of the Seoul city government that it will entirely preserve its greenbelt zones without releasing them," it said.
"Regarding the operation of the task force on expanding the supply of homes as part of efforts to stabilize the housing market, Seoul city is only taking part within the capacity of discussing follow-up steps for the July 10 housing market measures," it added, referring to the government's latest anti-speculation steps that mostly sought to limit price increases by raising tax rates.
The median price of Seoul apartments jumped 52 percent from 606 million won (US$505,000) to 920 million won in three years since the Moon Jae-in administration came into office in May 2017, according to property data from KB Kookmin Bank.
Record-low interest rates and excess liquidity, which has been pumped into the market to help revive the virus-hit economy, have contributed to soaring home prices, analysts said.
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