TOKYO • The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo - the world's largest - will stay where it is for at least a year, the city's governor said yesterday, in a move that could impact the 2020 Olympics.
The delay - over concerns about toxic contamination at the new site - means a planned underground tunnel leading to an athletes' village is now off the table as it cannot be built in time.
An above-ground road will be constructed instead to ensure smooth flow of traffic, said Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, as the megacity struggles to contain soaring costs linked to the Games.
Plans to uproot the more than 80-year-old market, a popular tourist attraction, have been in the works for years, with advocates citing the need for upgraded technology. The move was originally set for this month. But in August, Ms Koike said she would postpone the relocation until at least early next year, as she awaited final groundwater testing results at the new facility, formerly a gas plant.
Yesterday, Ms Koike said there would be no move before the "winter of 2017 or spring 2018", depending on the results of health and environmental tests.
"There are many concerns, including the safety of the new site," she told reporters.
Plans to uproot the more than 80-year-old market, a popular tourist attraction, have been in the works for years, with advocates citing the need for upgraded technology. The move was originally set for this month.
She also held out the possibility of scrapping the relocation altogether. "We can't say now that the relocation... is guaranteed," she said.
Beyond building the road linking it to the planned athletes' village, it remains unclear what will be built on the piece of prime real estate where the fish market currently stands.
The controversial relocation plan has been marred by problems, including the discovery that contractors had inexplicably failed to fill in a basement at the new site with clean soil as a buffer against underground pollution.
The local government paid a whopping 86 billion yen (S$1.1 billion) in clean-up costs, but experts said in a report recently submitted to Ms Koike that levels of mercury detected inside the basement were above nationally set limits.
The governor has questioned the 588 billion yen in relocation costs - more than one-third higher than earlier estimates - to put the market at a site several kilometres away and to build a modern facility about 40 per cent larger with state-of- the-art refrigeration.
Tsukiji's wholesalers have voiced frustration over the delay, saying that postponing the move will cost them millions of dollars a month.