A senior central government official has admitted for the first time that the gigantic Three Gorges Dam poses serious threats to the environment. His comments, reported in state media yesterday, signal a change in attitude of senior leaders to the dam before next month's party congress. The leadership appears to be stepping back from the legacy of former president Jiang Zemin and former premier Li Peng , who pushed the project through 15 years ago despite widespread controversy, analysts said. The ecological impact of the dam had been gradually emerging since test operations started last year, the director of the State Council Three Gorges Project Construction Committee Executive Office, Wang Xiaofeng, said on Tuesday. These included soil erosion, landslides, pollution and a shortage of arable land, he told a meeting of local officials and scholars called in Wuhan to discuss the dam's problems. Without timely and effective remedial efforts, these threats could lead to serious disasters, he said. Mr Wang's opinion represented a consensus recently reached by the nation's leadership. He said that at the State Council Standing Committee meeting in June, Premier Wen Jiabao had decided priority should be given to dealing with ecological and environmental problems caused by the dam. Mr Wang also showed rare tolerance of overseas media criticism of the project. 'Some reports have bad intentions, but most of them speak because they care about the Three Gorges project. We must pay attention,' he said. The central government official's opinion was echoed by city and provincial officials at the meeting. Hubei deputy governor Li Chunming said the banks of the Yangtze River were collapsing with increasing frequency and studies showed more serious problems would arise in the future. Chongqing officials also expressed concerns, saying pollution levels and the incidence of landslides in the dam area and along adjacent rivers had risen since the dam began to fill.