People's voices will be heard, says mayor
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
Shanghai leader vows to listen to public opinion on major infrastructure projects
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng pledged yesterday to take public opinion into account for major projects, following massive protests earlier this month against an extension of the high-speed maglev train line.
'Decisions on major policies and large-scale projects and expenditure must be made on the basis of collective discussion,' Mr Han told the opening session of the Shanghai People's Congress, the city's legislature.
'We will improve our systems of public opinion surveys, public notification and public hearings, and make sure that citizens are effectively involved,' he said.
Late last month, the city quietly posted a revised route for the maglev extension from the Longyang Road Metro Station on Line 2 to Hongqiao airport, sparking off a week of protests by residents worried about the threat to public health and property values. More than 2,000 people joined the largest demonstration on January 12.
Mr Han made no direct reference to the maglev project in his two-hour address, but he stressed the importance of infrastructure for economic development.
He added the city would try to defuse problems at their source, but took a harder line on protests.
'We will take measures to prevent, reduce and appropriately handle 'crowd incidents' to minimise their detrimental impact on social harmony,' he said.
As Mr Han spoke, police detained a handful of protesters outside the meeting venue, but there were fewer than previous years. This was partly because of a security crackdown and a temporary truce in the maglev dispute as affected residents await the conclusion of an open-ended consultation period.
At least 25 police vehicles, including eight riot vans, parked near the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. Benches on pavements were removed in an apparent effort to prevent people from gathering.
Residents have voiced concerns over noise, vibrations and possible electromagnetic radiation from the maglev. The city will have to relocate some residents to make way for the line, while homeowners living nearby fear the project will cause the value of their properties to plunge.
Mr Han said residents evicted for development projects would receive new homes. 'The government will facilitate the provision of apartments designated for citizens who have to relocate to make way for key infrastructure projects,' he said.
Congress deputy He Xuxin said he believed the government needed to provide more information to residents about the maglev.
'For the maglev, we need more publicity. We want the people to understand that the maglev basically doesn't have any impact on health'
Leaders of the anti-maglev movement hope congress deputies will discuss the issue in small group meetings, but they expect few results. 'There will be little impact,' said one, who declined to be named.
Several residents who joined in the protests said they were waiting to see if the government offered new proposals after consulting residents. Shanghai temporarily suspended the project in May last year after a similar outcry.