Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara repeated Monday his claim that he was not responsible for selecting the contaminated site now planned to host the famous Tsukiji fish market.
“This has been decided in a flow directed by the entire metropolitan government. It was impossible to go against it,” Ishihara repeated to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly committee investigating the controversial relocation plan based on a former gas plant site in the Toyosu district in Koto Ward.
Speaking as a sworn witness, the 84-year-old former governor said the plan for moving Tsukiji to the waterfront district was one of many pending issues he inherited from his predecessor when he assumed the governorship in 1999.
Although Ishihara said he was responsible for giving final approval to the project when asked about the decision-making process, he said he left the actual negotiations to his subordinates.
Among several potential relocation sites, the metro government selected a tract of land in Toyosu that formerly hosted a production plant for Tokyo Gas Co. The basic agreement on the relocation plan was reached in July 2001.
Although the new market was scheduled to open in Nov. 7, Gov. Yuriko Koike, who took office in August, decided to put the move on hold as groundwater pollution concerns — as well as secret shortcuts that removed pollution safeguards — re-emerged, casting doubt on Ishihara’s administration.
Ishihara also repeated his call to move the aging Tsukiji wholesale market without further delay, criticizing Koike for harboring reservations about its safety.
“She should be held responsible for failure to act,” he said, pointing to the running costs needed to maintain the unused facility, which will also sell fresh flowers and produce.
Ishihara argued that the groundwater contamination is inconsequential, saying what matters most is whether soil there is excessively tainted. Claiming that “experts agree” on the safety of the Toyosu market’s soil, he urged Koike to give the go-ahead for the relocation as soon as possible.
Ishihara was also questioned about the snowballing costs of dealing with contamination at the Toyosu facility. Although the total is estimated at ¥86 billion, Tokyo Gas is shouldering only ¥7.8 billion in line with an agreement signed under Ishihara in 2011.
As he did at his March 3 news conference, Ishihara denied involvement in the contract, saying he left the Tokyo Gas negotiations to then-Dep. Gov. Takeo Hamauzu and a close aide, and did not receive any detailed reports from Hamauzu, who appeared before the same committee on Saturday.
He said Tokyo Gas was the one who suggested holding backdoor negotiations on the contaminated land for Tokyo’s top fish market, contradicting the metro government’s official records, which state that Hamauzu sounded out Tokyo Gas about holding secret talks on the sale in October 2000.
The metro government’s main negotiator for the land purchase told the committee that the utility used the term “behind closed doors.”
Tokyo Gas was initially reluctant to sell the land to Tokyo because it thought the former gas site would not be appropriate for a fresh food market. But according to government records, Hamauzu approached the utility and initiated secret talks on the deal.
Hamauzu said that because the gas company was originally considering using the land for a different development project, he thought it wanted to discuss the land sale to the metropolitan government quietly because an abrupt change in the plan for using the Toyosu site could cause “disruption.”
“Since negotiations usually do not go well without taking into account a partner’s demand, I said, ‘We are fine to talk about it behind closed doors,’ ” Hamauzu told the committee.
Monday’s session with Ishihara was shortened to around 80 minutes from the initially planned three hours in light of a request from Ishihara, who cited health concerns.