Published: 14:19, July 9, 2024
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Anhui takes lead in efficient land use
By Zhu Lixin in Hefei

Province piloting system to ensure most is made of resources, arable areas protected

Zhongan Chuanggu Technology Park in Hefei, Anhui province, is an area dedicated to innovative companies, serving as an example of efficient land use and the integration of urban functions. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Editor's note: June 25 marked the 34th National Land Day of China. The theme for this year called for using land resources intensively and efficiently, and protecting arable land. Anhui province, the only provincial-level area designated to pilot new models for more efficient land management, is making headway in this regard.

As the only provincial-level area piloting new models for the more efficient management of land, East China's Anhui has been able to attract a growing number of enterprises to set up their latest projects, according to local officials and businesspeople.

There are several ways of measuring the efficiency of land management, such as by ensuring a project uses the minimum amount of land possible so that the remaining land can be used for other purposes, or reusing or repurposing existing sites instead of building on new land.

China's Ministry of Natural Resources and the Anhui government launched the land-saving and efficiency pilot in October 2022, in the hope that projects in the province could find innovative ways to improve land use and share the experiences with other parts of the country.

READ MORE: Anhui powers ahead in tech development

Anhui was selected for the pilot program as over the past decade, it has become one of the economic powerhouses of the Yangtze River Delta region, with its GDP surging from 1.2 trillion yuan ($165 billion) in 2010 to 4.7 trillion yuan last year.

The pilot is being carried out in 16 cities in Anhui until the end of 2025.

"Guided by the principle of land conservation, so far we have taken 33 specific measures such as improving planning for land use, exploring new mechanisms for arable land protection and strengthening the redevelopment of inefficient plots of land in urban areas," said Gao Hongjian, director of the provincial government's natural resources department.

Land in China's urban areas is owned by the State, with developers acquiring land for certain periods of time.

During that time, if the development of the acquired land fails to meet certain standards set by the government, it may be identified as "idle land" and can be taken back in exchange for compensation, according to official documents.

The provincial authorities said they have given every plot of urban land an exclusive identification number, which will be used for each plot's full life cycle, and will conduct inspections on them from time to time.

The provincial government evaluates the cities taking part with an annual ranking system based on their performances in areas such as protecting arable land, the intensity of land use in industrial areas and the repurposing of idle land.

Based on the ranking, the top three cities will be awarded special construction projects.

In the 2023 ranking released on June 24, the provincial capital Hefei topped the list.

Cars roll off the production line at a BYD factory in Xiatang township in suburban Hefei in 2022. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Mass production

One of the many enterprises that have been attracted to the province has been electric vehicle maker BYD, which has been investing in a production site in Xiatang township on the outskirts of Hefei since 2021.

The plant's first phase, which covers 261 hectares, produced almost half a million NEVs last year, generating an output value of 60 billion yuan, according to the Hefei government.

Government planning shows the BYD plant is projected to expand to cover 583 hectares, equivalent to nearly 1,200 standard soccer fields, by the completion of the second phase of the project.

Further expansion is expected in a third phase to come in the future.

"When attracting investment for such huge projects, the cities that are able to provide abundant land for necessary use will more likely win," said He Fengyang, vice-mayor of Hefei.

The sprawling BYD plant employs thousands of workers and even features its own monorail system to transport them to and from various workshops and production lines.

Protecting farmland

The main importance of land conservation is to protect arable land, according to documents from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

If urban land is not used efficiently and effectively, cities could expand in a disordered way and impinge on farmland.

"This is the reason we should always tap the full potential of existing land resources first," said Fang Cheng, deputy director of the Anhui Provincial Department of Natural Resources.

Since the pilot program began, Anhui's arable land has increased by 13,453 hectares, equivalent to 20 percent of the province's Changfeng county's current arable land, according to the provincial department of natural resources.

For the BYD plant, part of the land used has come from inefficient plots in Xiatang township and nearby, with the rest coming from farmland repurposed into industrial land.

Provided overall farmland doesn't decrease, governments in Anhui could increase their industrial land by reshuffling and merging plots to create greater efficiencies.

Volkswagen Anhui, based in the Hefei Economic and Technological Development Area, is another massive manufacturing base in the province.

The land it uses was repurposed from part of a manufacturing base previously owned by Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co, or JAC, in 2020.

A locally headquartered carmaker, JAC owns several bases across Hefei.

After the land was transferred to Volkswagen, the investment on the land increased from 200,000 yuan per hectare to around 730,000 per hectare.

Another part of the former JAC base was turned into an industrial park exclusively for Volkswagen's suppliers, also benefiting the local economy.

Anhui had identified 5,613 hectares of idle land, and reduced land consumption intensity per unit of GDP by 5.5 percent by the end of last year, according to the provincial department.

Community clusters

Huami Information Technology, a Hefei-based and United States-listed maker of smart wearables, moved its headquarters to Anhui Zhongan Chuanggu Technology Park, a new area developed for innovative companies, in 2020.

"This place is more like a community integrating various functions, and combines science and technology innovation industrial clusters with urban spaces," said Zhang Li, a manager at Huami.

Schools and childcare facilities have been established in the park so that employees there are able to better manage their work and home lives.

"We can not only work in this science and technology community, but also live in it. Such an environment is more suitable for our science and technology enterprises to innovate and start businesses," said Wang Fang, president of the technology park's management company.

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The park is home to 761 enterprises, and boasts an investment intensity of over 150 million yuan per hectare. It has attracted over 8,000 professionals in various fields of technological innovation. The park had an output value of 17 billion yuan last year.

"Innovative enterprises, especially startups, may face challenges such as a lack of space, services and industry ecosystems," said Wang, adding that the park provides all these things.

"If every innovative enterprise were to occupy its own land, land resources would be limited. Additionally, the project implementation cycle would be long, increasing the burden on enterprises. In reality, some enterprises don't need to invest in fixed assets," she said.

If enterprises are scattered in different regions, there can be a lack of specialized agencies to provide them with the services they need for development, she said.