UNESCO advisory body calls felling of trees at Jingu Gaien park 'unacceptable'

A member of a UNESCO advisory panel has called for an immediate halt to a controversial plan to redevelop Jingu Gaien, a lush park in central Tokyo.

The panel of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, issued what's called a heritage alert last week calling for a halt to the destruction of thousands of trees at the park. The statement said Jingu Gaien "represents an outstanding cultural heritage, unparalleled in the history of urban parks worldwide."

ICOMOS member Elizabeth Brabec serves as the president of the panel's International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes. She joined a news conference at the Japan National Press Club online on Friday.

Brabec criticized the "unacceptable loss of mature heritage trees at a time when the world response to climate change recognizes the critical importance of maintaining urban open spaces in all parts of the urban forest."

Brabec added, "It is virtually unheard of for a major city such as Tokyo to take some of its urban parkland, which is in very short supply, and convert it to development."

Developers plan to build two skyscrapers in the Jingu Gaien area, which includes parts of Shinjuku Ward. Work to cut down hundreds of trees that are over 3 meters high could begin this month or later.

ICOMOS is asking the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which has approved the project, and the developers to respond to its alert by October 10.

Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko told reporters on Friday that it appears ICOMOS has one-sided information, and that the developers need to provide a more detailed explanation.

Koike also said the Metropolitan Government asked the developers on Tuesday to present a concrete plan to review their policy on the preservation of trees before cutting them down.

The governor said the reminder was issued as the parties involved have failed to present a report, despite promising to do so in January. She urged them to quickly study preservation plans.