Judges show way with suit claiming high-rise spoils their view
Mark O'Neill in Beijing
Sixty-two judges have thrown the book at city officials and developers of a building that they say will stop sunlight reaching their apartments.
The judges are suing Lanzhou city Government's planning bureau and two firms responsible for the building, which they claim was built illegally, magazine Xinwen Zhoukan said.
The private action by the judges is said to be the first such case in the communist era. In China, it is common for senior officials of the same department to be housed in the same compound.
The judges moved into an eight-storey block in Rong Da Gardens, Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, at the end of 1999, the report said. All bought their flats.
The building is on a road dubbed the 'street of corruption' by residents because it contains the apartments of high-ranking city officials. To the south of the building was a vegetable plot and, behind that, a lake, giving a pleasant view, the report said.
Last May, the planning bureau approved construction on the site of an 18-storey apartment building - 30 metres higher than the judges' block.
When work began in November, the judges learned the block was 40 metres away from their own, breaching planning laws, and was projected to block sunlight to their homes.
The vice-mayor responsible for city planning urged the two sides to settle out of court to avoid embarrassment, but the two could not find a compromise. The judges filed their lawsuit on April 21.
However, construction of the block continued without even a rest for the May Day holiday, the report said. Work was stopped at the sixth floor only after the judges obtained a court order on May 10.
The High Court of Gansu province has authorised the middle court of Baiyin city to handle the case.
Shang Lunsheng, lawyer for the judges, said it was the first time judges had taken collective action against a planning bureau under communist rule.
'They are using the weapon of the law and want to give a lesson to the public and raise their awareness that the law can protect them,' he said.
Duan Jisheng, director of the planning bureau, said he had considered a negotiated settlement but had decided to fight the case to the end. 'It is wrong to say that the judges are suing us. It is ordinary people who are suing us,' he said.
There is a precedent. In 1999, 36 retired officials in the southwestern city of Chengdu petitioned the mayor in protest over two commercial buildings that blocked the sunlight to their flats. The developers had to pay the officials four million yuan (HK$3.76 million) in compensation - the first such award in China.