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Japan lawyers' group urges Tokyo to halt park development, calling its impact review unscientific

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese bar association is urging Tokyo's metropolitan government to suspend a disputed redevelopment of the city's beloved park area, saying that its environmental assessment by developers lacked objective and scientific grounds.

The metropolitan government approved the Jingu Gaien redevelopment project in February of 2023 based on the environmental assessment submitted by the developers, allowing the start of construction.

The plan involves razing a famous baseball stadium and rebuilding it, as part of a vast construction project that critics say would threaten thousands of trees in a city of meager green space.

Hundreds of outside experts, including architects, environmentalists and academics, have demanded the suspension of the project in open letters and petition campaigns.

The developers are the real estate company Mitsui Fudosan, Meiji Jingu shrine, Itochu Corp. and the government-affiliated Japan Sports Council.

In the latest opposition to the project, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement Thursday in which the lawyers group said the environmental assessment lacks sufficient data and used erroneous research methods.

In one example, the developers' report failed to mention the status of gingko trees even though a U.N.-affiliated environmental group has detected deterioration in the health of gingko trees in the area, the statement said. Environmentalists have said that high-rise buildings planned as part of the development would come too close to nearby gingko trees.

Also, the Japan branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, which has issued a “heritage alert” for Tokyo’s Gaien area, was never invited to environmental assessment meetings, the bar association said.

“We do not consider the report objective or scientific,” the statement said.

It urged the Tokyo metropolitan government to suspend the project, ask the developers to resubmit their environmental assessment and have it reviewed by an investigative panel of experts.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told a news conference Friday that she was unaware of details in the bar association statement, but defended the metropolitan government's 2023 approval of the development plans as appropriate.

Although the Tokyo government has never formally suspended the project, the developers have voluntarily delayed portions of it, including the felling of trees, presumably due the outcry. The main developer Mitsui Fudosan has said it is reexamining the project's effects on nearby gingko trees and is working to improve transparency and communication with the public to gain their understanding.

The bar association also noted that a respected impact assessment group, the International Association for Impact Assessments, urged the Tokyo governor in June of 2023 to stop the project, but that the appeal was ignored.