Had their fill

Residents unhappy at surge in land reclamations in Dalian

Had their fill

Dalian: coast, but at what cost?

Houshi Cun was a quiet seaside village until about six months ago. Times have changed quickly since then, courtesy of the construction cranes and heavy-duty bulldozers now building luxury villas across town. Construction of other residential properties also races ahead.

All this is rising above the mud of reclaimed land in Dalian’s Jinzhou Bay. Developed by Shimao, a developer with a focus on residential sales, Shimao Royal Dragon Bay envisages not only apartments and houses but also shopping malls, a theme park and the obligatory golf course, yacht club and a seven-star hotel. A dragon-shaped island offshore is also in the works (sound disturbingly like Dubai?).

Industry observers say Dalian, located in the northeastern province of Liaoning , will be grabbing more and more land from the sea. This year alone land sales in the city have reached Rmb100 billion ($15.63 billion), and the majority of that came from reclaimed areas, says Southern Weekend.

Last year Dalian ranked third in land sales, just behind Beijing and Shanghai, with revenues from deals with developers reaching Rmb100 billion in total, three times that of 2009.

Again, reclamation projects like Puwan New Area and Donggang Business District contributed a large share of the revenues.

For property developers, buying newly-reclaimed plots costs less than paying for pre-existing land. “More and more projects have been started on land reclaimed from the sea to avoid hassles such as tearing down old housing, relocating residents and paying compensation for land acquisition,” says Professor Hou Guoben of China Ocean University in Qingdao.

As newly-created space, reclamation is also going to be an attractive option for government treasurers, struggling to cover their running costs, and faced with the local share of bills for centrally-mandated infrastructure projects.

The cost of filling in bays and seafront is estimated at about Rmb300 per square metre – a figurative drop in the ocean compared to the prices asked of developers, which can reach Rmb10,000 a metre, says Century Weekly.

That temptation leads to breaches of the rules: Liaoning province was given approval to reclaim 3,000 hectares of coastal land this year, but actual reclamation is closer to 30 times the permitted quota, says Li Wenjun, an official at the State Oceanic Administration, which is responsible for regulating the country’s coastal zones.

Good news for the government and developers. But less so for some local residents, who complain that reclamation projects are destroying shorelines.

Some of that is an argument over aesthetics. The area of Qinglu in Zhuhai (in the south, not far from Hong Kong and Macau) used to be near the sea. But locals say their properties no longer have an ocean view, and are now hemmed in by an artificial peninsula.

Opponents also argue that reclamation on such a massive scale will damage marine life, disturb natural flood plains and even obstruct shipping on current routes.

“Excessive development will bring trash cans and pollution into the natural and peaceful seaside,” Sun Keqin, a geological export from the China University of Geosciences, told the Global Times.

Back at the Shimao development in Dalian, fishermen say construction work is already depleting fish stocks, which will result in a loss of industry jobs.

But the government cares only about making money from the associated property development, the fishermen complain.

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