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China pollution

China needs to build 10 more megacities to ease pollution and traffic pressure on Beijing, top planner says

Too many top schools and company headquarters are located in the capital and it’s time to spread the resources around, official says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 2:59pm

China needs 10 new megacities – each with top schools, hospitals and corporate headquarters – to ease the strain on Beijing, a top economic planner has said.

Public services were simply too concentrated in the capital, which meant more people were flocking there to live, worsening pollution and gridlock, Yang Weimin told a forum in Chongqing on the weekend.

Yang, who is the deputy chair of the Central Leading Group on Finance and Economic Affairs, supported the government’s urbanisation plan for 2014-2020, calling for megacities to be established in the northeast, central and western areas.

But he went a step further, by putting the number of new giant cities needed at 10, and said they should be built within five years.

“If company headquarters, top hospitals and the best universities were relocated, the diseases [in Beijing] would be cured and neighbouring areas would have more opportunities,” Yang said.

In much the same way that the Yangtze River Delta is anchored by three economic giants – the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and Shanghai – the less-developed areas in the northeast, centre and west should be rooted in existing key cities. In the west for instance, the anchors could be Chengdu and Chongqing, he said.

READ MORE: Megalopolis: the future of urban planning in China

The new mega cities would shift the focus away from urban centres that had hit saturation point, such as Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province – known as the Jingjinji area and which is already merging into one urban conglomeration.

Similarly, the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas had no room left to grow.

The mainland has six megacities – Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing – all with a population of 10 million or more. But troubled by traffic and smog, they are tightening growth and moving some of its facilities to other areas.

Beijing has transplanted schools, hospitals and shops to the suburbs and polluting factories and wholesale markets to neighbouring Hebei province in recent years. The municipal government will be next to move, shifting from near the Zhongnanhai compound to the suburban Tongzhou district.

However, Sheng Guangyao, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, said the relocations did not go far enough.

READ MORE: Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei take different approaches to beating smog

Beijing should move its universities and hospitals to Hebei instead of suburbs, to avoid further saturation, he said.

But the disparate levels of power held by city and provincial governments had to be addressed if large-scale planning was to be successful.

“The synergetic development of a region largely depends on the coordination of different governments, which is especially difficult in the Jingjinji area,” he said.

Beijing and Tianjin were both provincial-level municipalities, and adjacent cities were not on an equal footing when came to cooperation. Those cities had to turn to the provincial government, he said.