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Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 12 News List

China cracks down on unnecessary public construction

AFP , BEIJING

China vowed yesterday to crackdown on "wasteful" construction in its cities and towns, which has led to large amounts of land, money and resources being used for unnecessary projects.

Many of China's 660 cities have projects -- such as business development parks or large squares -- which serve no purpose other than boosting the image of the city and its officials, said Qiu Baoxing, vice minister of construction.

"A large number of so-called `image projects' or `achievement projects' that waste manpower and money have been undertaken only to project the image of a city or the achievement of city officials," Qiu told reporters.

Long-term benefits were not taken into account and the construction did not meet standards on urban development, he said.

For industrial parks alone, the central government has found 3,000 of the 6,000 built in the past seven years were not needed, Qiu said.

Half of the parks have been ordered shut and the ones that have not been completed have been cancelled in the past half year, while the government continues its clean-up of indulgent construction.

Many other wasteful projects exists. In one city of only 50,000 people, a huge square that can accommodate 60,000 people has been built.

Ancient buildings or relics have been damaged in the process, Qiu said, while much of the land used has been taken from farmers.

Meanwhile, there was a "serious lack of infrastructure" to serve the public need, Qiu said.

"We have too many image projects and too little necessary infrastructure."

Local level officials often approve projects for which they get a kickback from developers, or which they think will make them look good.

Residents are never consulted and market needs are often ignored. In many parts of China, industrial parks and other buildings lie vacant because there was no demand for such projects to begin with.

"Overlapping construction has led to a huge economic loss," Qiu said.

The problem comes at a time of rapid urbanization in China, making the task of dealing with the issue more urgent.

From 1978 to 2002, the level of urbanization increased by 21 percent, with 39.1 percent of Chinese people living in urban areas in 2002, compared to just 17.9 percent in 1978.

During this period, the annual rate of growth in population in China's cities and towns was 0.88 percent a year, twice as fast as the world average level in the same period, Qiu said.

Without proper infrastructure, including roads or wastewater treatment facilities, many problems can occur, including environmental pollution.

China is also trying to control the construction sector, which is showing signs of overheating.

To deal with unnecessary construction, the government is planning to tighten supervision and enforcement of standards on urban development, Qiu said.

Asked whether a more efficient way to curb wasteful construction was to give supervisory power to the residents in cities and towns, Qiu shied away from any suggestion that democratic reforms used in other countries to deal with such problems could be used in China.

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