January 02 2014

Planning Decision-Making in China Calls for More Accountability

Recent incidents of shifting plans without notifying residents have triggered the Chinese society’s attention on planning issues. For example, a proposed apartment building plan was changed to a gas station in Zhuzhou, and an underground parking lot in Changsha became a market. Some experts have said that local government officials change the plans without a formal process for political performance and personal interests.

Chaotic planning in China

According to residents living in Zhuzhou Xinxin Jiayuan residential district, in March this year construction started in an empty space next to the residential district, and the developer claimed that the project was going to be new residential housing. However, in October a notice was posted next to the construction site saying that a gas station was going to be built on the site. The new gas station would be located only 1.5 meters away from the residential district’s wall. Moreover, the gas station is going to be elevated 5 meters above the ground and will block the sun. Before the public notice period expired, four gas tanks had already been buried underground.

Residents in Changsha have also encountered some issues on planning and development: they suddenly realized that an underground parking lot was turned into a market. Before the market, the parking lot was used as a construction material store.

Zheng Guang, architecture professor from Hunan University, said that the local government officials usually have term limits, so they are pressured to produce results that prove their governmental ability in a short term. This pushes some officials to adopt plans that may not benefit the city in the long run.

The reporter found that some projects whose legality was questioned by the public usually had approval from the local planning department. For example, the gas station project next to Zhuzhou Xinxin Jiayuan residential district had all legal documents needed to make it legitimate. However, some insiders say that these kind of projects seem legitimate from the surface, but are actually a result of corruption.

China urban planning

Tan Chunhua, Vice Director of the Changsha Planning and Design Academy said that in order to regulate disorderly planning practices, an accountability system must be established, and a plan’s writer and decision maker should be responsible for the outcome of that plan.

Do you think an accountability system will help the local government to be responsible for their planning decisions?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

The original article, published in Chinese, can be found here.

Jue Wang

Jue Wang is a Master of Urban Planning student at the University of Southern California (USC) with a concentration in sustainable land use planning. Born in a small town along the Yellow River and having grown up in the Pearl River Delta in southeastern China, she experienced the rapid transformation of rural and urban China in the past two decades. Inspired by the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, she decided to translate her passions towards the betterment of the natural and built environment to a career in urban planning. Being an Angeleno for five years, she has claimed Los Angeles as her second home. Through her work as a translator and content coordinator, Jue hopes to help more people learn about China's planning and environmental design issues.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 at 9:24 am and is filed under Government/Politics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Planning Decision-Making in China Calls for More Accountability”

  1. Neelam Pradhananga Says:

    Yes, it appears that an accountability system would definitely help!

    What is quite interesting to me in the article above is the apparent lack of the community’s opinion/feedback in the development approval process.

    Reflecting on the processes we follow in Sydney, if a proposed development is likely to have an impact on the neighbourhood, it is notified. A letter explaining the proposed development as well as plans, elevations and sections are sent out to those individuals(often neighbours) who will be affected. They are given a certain amount of time (generally 14 days for ‘minor’ developments and longer for ‘major developments) to make a submission, object to the development, etc. The assessing planner then takes these into consideration whilst undertaking a merit assessment. This ensures that the emphasis is not just on the opinions of ‘experts’ but the community is engaged as well (although of course it isn’t possible to keep everyone happy). And often there are cases where developments are approved even though there are objections. But at least there is a process followed which ensures engagement of stakeholders in making decisions about developments that take place in their neighbourhood.

    I know in Nepal (this was a few years back), if you were to undertake any alterations and additions to your house, for instance, you would need to get consent from your neighbours along with compliance with building codes. This process placed greater emphasis on the community approving the proposed development as one is asked to modify their proposed development if the neighbours aren’t happy. If you didn’t get along with your neighbour, you were in big trouble! After obtaining consent from one’s neighbours, compliance with building codes would generally result in approval. The problem, of course, in cities like Kathmandu is that there is no mechanism to ensure that what is approved actually gets built. In Sydney, one must obtain a construction certificate to start construction and inspections are carried out at various stages of construction. In Kathmandu, on the other hand, there are instances where people construct on the weekends when there are no building inspectors around!! In any case, there aren’t enough building inspectors and once a building has been constructed, there isn’t much one can do (no legal repercussions). There was an instance in a world heritage zone in Kathmandu where a woman added a few storeys (unauthorised) to her house. When the municipality came to demolish the upper storeys, the community came together and chased the municipality staff away. This happens in cities like Kathmandu because there is no rule of law. Unfortunate, but this is the way it has been and still is to a great extent today. The result is a chaotic, concrete jungle that is unsafe, not to mention a planner’s nightmare.

    I wonder what process is followed in China. I note that the article above mentions that a notice was placed on the construction site. Are there any mechanisms in place for residents to be notified prior to the construction work?

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