Premier Li Keqiang threw his weight behind a plan to build a network of underground pipelines across mainland cities as part of the wider urbanisation drive. In a work conference last week, Li - the first mainland premier to hold a doctorate (in economics) - underscored the importance of the project as a new engine of growth for the domestic economy. "China is accelerating the pace of urbanisation, but backward underground pipelines appear to be a big dragging force," Li said, according to People's Daily . "It is necessary to step up our efforts on construction of better underground pipelines." Urbanisation is one of the premier's key initiatives to spur and sustain economic growth. Unlike former mainland leaders who often focused on the size of government spending and number of projects in infrastructure works, Li stressed that only urbanisation carried out under "scientific planning" would benefit the economy in the long term. The networks of pipes are used for sewage, transmission of electricity and gas, as well carrying the cables for telecoms and broadcasting. An efficient system would also allow proper drainage of rainwater, reducing the flooding that many city residents must contend with during the rainy season. The premier reiterated that a unified effort was needed to build the pipelines to avoid wasting money and labour as various departments had broken ground on several different projects. They have to convince investors that the pipelines, after completion, will have a long-term benefit Gu Weiyong, Ucon Investments, on the private funding part of the plan The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the Ministry of Finance have selected 10 cities as pioneers to carry out the pipe improvements over the next three years, at a cost of 35.1 billion yuan (HK$43.8 billion). Among the cities on the list are Haikou on Hainan Island, Xiamen in Fujian province and Suzhou in Jiangsu province. The central and local governments will provide 15.8 billion yuan, while 19.3 billion yuan will be raised in the private sector. Mainland media have estimated the entire project across the nation could cost 1 trillion yuan a year, a boost to fixed-asset investment growth, which slowed to 11.4 per cent for the first six months of the year, down 5.9 percentage points from the same period last year. Li is striving to de-leverage an economy facing increasing financial risks after runaway investment in infrastructure works between 2009 and 2010 - a result of the 4 trillion yuan stimulus package the government introduced to combat a global slowdown. But it remains to be seen whether the fundraising for the pipeline will be successful. "Scientific planning must be underscored in these projects since they have to convince investors that the pipelines, after completion, will have a long-term benefit to the cities' developments," said Gu Weiyong, chief executive of Shanghai-based Ucon Investments. "As the projects eventually help the cities prosper, local authorities will be able to increase the revenues in future, and hence easily pay back the investors."