CHINA / National

Public opinions influence construction projects
Updated: 2006-04-22 10:08

Tang Hongyun, a 55-year-old farmer in east China's Anhui Province, was alarmed to see a planned new expressway would cut within 100 meters of the village primary school.

The dangers of having fast-moving vehicles in an area frequented by young children were obvious, not to mention the disruption the traffic noise would cause in classes.

Many Chinese would have accepted these risks as the price to be paid for the country's rapid development, so Tang was surprised when the authorities sought his opinion on the plans.

The province's communications investment company had proposed an expressway from Sihong County, Jiangsu Province, to Xuchang City, Henan Province, with a long section to go through northern Anhui.

The company published an environmental assessment and began to solicit public opinions and submissions by mail, e-mail and surveys.

Tang, of Miaowang Village in Lingbi County, said the expressway was too close to the school and the traffic noise would affect lessons. He suggested the school be moved from the site and that scores of homes along the road be fitted with special windows to reduce the noise.

"My family has lived here for generations so I have right to say something about the project," Tang said.

Tang's suggestions were written into the assessment report. Yu Chenyu, of the Ministry of Communications environmental protection center, said contractors were obligated to relocate the school if environmental assessment experts agreed, which they did.

Tang's victory came about after the State Administration of Environmental Protection last month promulgated interim measures to include public opinions in environmental assessments.

The rules require that public opinions be solicited for the assessment of all projects and that public hearings last at least 10 days.

Wan Jing, a senior official with Anhui's environmental protection authorities, said public opinion had already been sought for a dozen proposed projects in the province, ensuring the public's right to environmental information and their right to comment and make suggestions.

Previously,environmental assessments were made exclusively by environmental protection institutions, with submissions by experts only.

The result in Anhui has been changes in other major projects.

The Sihong-Xuchang expressway was originally planned to go through the new downtown area of Suzhou City, but some residents complained of the probable inconvenience if the road cut through the downtown area. Planners changed their design to an elevated road.

"The revision will not only save land resources, but also protect the new downtown area and avoid high costs in any possible reconstruction," said Wan Jing, from the provincial environmental protection authorities.