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Arable Land Banks Reclaimed
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A campaign launched in 2003 to reclaim land improperly acquired for use as development zones, has made "preliminary progress", the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a circular yesterday.

The number of zones has been slashed, the NDRC said, and approval for any new construction work or expansion of existing sites has been suspended.

The circular said that by the end of last year, the number of zones stood at 1,568, down from 6,866 in 2003, and that the combined land area had been cut from 38,600 sq km to 9,949 sq km.

The circular said the aim of the campaign was to curb the illegal acquisition of arable land in the name of building development zones, as this had impinged on farmers' interests.

In the early 1990s, with construction fever sweeping the nation, the government, in a bid to attract investors, outlined a number of areas that were subject to privileged terms, such as preferential tax rates and fewer land-use restrictions.

However, the circular said: "Illegal land acquisition became rampant as local governments competed to drive down the land-use costs to lure investors, and this led to huge amounts of land being wasted."

Zhou Minliang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told: "Some developers actually used the land they acquired on preferential terms for commercial real estate projects, which generated huge profits. By slashing the number of development zones, the campaign aims to prevent that happening again".

Development zones, which have the same orientation within the same area, are merged to avoid redundant construction and fierce competition, the circular said.

In principle, counties can maintain only one development zone, and this may not be set up within a natural reserve or near to a major water source.

To help curb excessive investment and the relentless acquisition of cut-price land, the Ministry of Land and Resources this year doubled the land-use fee for arable land for all new constructions.

Meanwhile, China Youth Daily yesterday reported that in 2003, more than 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of farmland in Yiwu, East China's Zhejiang Province, was illegally expropriated for the construction of an industrial zone.

(China Daily April 20, 2007)

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