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Land use planning underscored
( 2003-09-16 07:14) (China Daily)

While urbanization is a major factor in China's economic development, many people are afraid that urban expansion comes at a cost -- the loss of valuable cultivated land. But this does not necessarily have to be the case, with proper land use planning.

Gerrit Knaap, director of the National Centre for Smart Growth under the University of Maryland in United States (US), made this observation yesterday at an international seminar of the Ministry of Land and Resources.

The seminar, sponsored by the US Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, is the highest-level Sino-US joint undertaking in this area to date.

Wang Shiyuan, a senior official with the ministry, said the seminar, which was attended by land planning officials from across the country, is important in finding ways to solve the conflict between the push for economic development and the need to preserve cultivated land.

He said that the country will revise its land use plans in the near future.

A source close to the ministry, who asked not to be identified, said the seminar is an indication of the central government's determination to address this contradiction in the nation's economic development plans.

 "Related central governmental departments have dispatched investigation teams to curb the widespread commandeering of land for development zones and industrial parks, which has become a great threat to China's limited area of cultivated land. The ministry hangs greater hope on improving land use efficiency as a way out of the impasse.''

Wang Guanghua, director of the Information Centre of the ministry which is hosting the seminar, also said improving land use efficiency through better planning will remain one of the priorities of the ministry.

According to Knaap, more and more people are coming to realize that government must play a big role in guiding a smart growth of cities that allows for economic prosperity as well as an improved standard of living. For example, the government can co-ordinate individual real estate projects for the general benefit of one area, and guide the direction of local economic structure through its provision of infrastructure facilities.

One case in point is the good land use plan that has enabled the city of Portland in the United States to increase its area by only by 2 per cent while accommodating a 50 per cent increase in population since 1975.

Improper governmental planning can bring high costs. Knapp cited what happened in East China's Zhejiang Province as an example.

Even though the province suffers from insufficient cultivated land resources, its government planned to decrease its urban density to 150 people per hectare, which will increase its urbanized land area by 140 per cent in half a decade.

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