Shanghai backwater prepares for transformation as bridge opens

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2009, 12:00am

Shanghai officials have effectively put property developers under starter's orders for development of the city's 'last virgin territory', announcing yesterday that a bridge linking Chongming Island with the city would open by the end of the month.

The 70-kilometre-long island in the centre of the Yangtze River Delta is in the northeastern corner of the municipality and has a reputation for its relatively unspoilt beauty.

However, a 25.5km bridge-tunnel project due to open on October 31 will bring major changes to the backwater community of 704,000.

'This is the fulfilment of a century-long dream for the residents of Chongming Island,' Huang Rong, director of the Shanghai Urban Construction and Communications Council, said. 'This will bring numerous benefits to the people on the island.'

The link, which has been under construction since 2005, joins Chongming to Changxing Island via a 10.3km bridge, which is now also joined to the mainland by an 8.9km tunnel.

The tunnel-bridge is the first leg of a link with southern Jiangsu province . But while Huang expressed confidence that the link would be completed in 2011 or 2012, there has been no firm indication of when work will begin on the next stage joining the northern part of Chongming to Qidong in Jiangsu.

Chongming county chief Zhao Qi dismissed suggestions that the road link would result in environmental degradation.

'People have suggested that the cars coming to the island could produce some negative effects,' Zhao said. 'But I do not see there being any real danger to our environment.'

He said the island aimed to be an example of sustainable development, with environmental protection at its core - though he noted that conservation needed to be seen in the context of its 1,100 years of human inhabitation.

However, the environmental pledges contrasted with promotional material showing tall buildings sprouting up from the island's shore as soon as the bridge made landfall - and plans on display at the island's urban planning museum.

The city has a major development plan for the island's southern shore stretching to 2020, involving the building of a new town next to its current main settlement, the expansion of industrial zones and creation of new ones - including 'green industries'. The plans also include a second new town development, which will require the reclamation of a sizeable section of the Dongtan wetlands, the site of the island's main nature reserve.

In reality, however, the island is far from the environmentalists' paradise promoted in the tourism pamphlets. It is already extensively urbanised, with a broad suburban sprawl along its southern shore from the new bridge in the east to the county seat 30km to the west - home to several large shipping terminals and a thriving steel industry.