Top officials call for better use of land

Updated: 2013-03-31 09:44

By Zheng Yangpeng and He Wei in Shanghai (China Daily)

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China's new urbanization drive should shift away from previous reckless expansion of urban area toward efficient use of available land, a group of top officials said during a forum on Saturday.

Citing examples from developed economies, officials and scholars slammed China's previous urban development model, characterized by extremely inefficient land use and cheap supply of industrial land at the expense of residential land.

"The previous model - based on cheap labor supply, intensive resources consumption, and unequal access to public service - is unsustainable," said Xu Xianping, vice-minister of National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner.

In future, Xu said, the priority should be to curb local governments' urban land expansion, with a special emphasize to reduce per capita urban land.

This meant that the size of new urban construction land that local governments can apply for will depend on the number of new residents they can attract, a move to counter the former model in which the pace of land urbanization was much faster than population urbanization.

The built-up area of China's domestic cities has expanded drastically by 83.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, while the decade witnessed a meager 45 percent growth of urban population, said Hu Cunzhi, vice-minister of land and resources.

According to Hu, China's urban area growth was 1.71 times of the urban population growth during the 1990s, and climbed to 1.85 times in the 2000s. By comparison, international recommended ratio is 1.12.

China's urban area expansion is so rapid that it now covered more than 8 percent of the country's usable land, a percentage parallel to countries with a per capita GDP of over $40,000, said Yang Weimin, deputy head of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs.

"The figure suggested that land exploration has almost reached its maximum limit," Yang warned.

"China's land is so scarce, while it imposes such a strict limit on plot ratio. I have called for a higher tolerance of plot ratio for more than 10 years but yield no result," said Fan Gang, an economist and former adviser for China's central bank.

Officials and scholars have also criticized China's cheap supply of industrial land, driven by local governments' desire to attract investment.

Yang cited data collected from 657 Chinese cities, which suggested the average land devoted to residential use is only 1.5 times more than industrial land.

"But in cities like Paris and Tokyo, the number is around 5 to 6," he said.

China's industrial land accounted for 26 percent of the nation's urban area in 2010, while in Yangtze River Delta Region, the figure reached 40 percent, Hu said.

This has come at the expense of residential land supply, which has pushed up China's home price, Hu said.

The government should optimize urban planning by capping the density of land for construction purposes, rather than procuring new arable land at the risk of ecological imbalance, Hu adds.

Future urbanization should also avoid the sharp decline of arable land derived from the arbitrary use of land, and should expand the forest, lakes and marsh area to reap ecological benefits, Yang said.

Jia Kang, a researcher with the Ministry of Finance, said instead of possessing new land, local governments should trade land quota with far suburb farmers, who unlike near suburb farmers, have rarely gained any benefit from urbanization.

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