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Illegal land use scuttles plan to reproduce Old Summer Palace

AUTHORITIES yesterday called off a controversial plan to build a replica of Beijing's Old Summer Palace in Zhejiang Province after they found it involved illegal land use.

The conclusion came a little more than a year after a non-governmental organization announced an effort to construct a full copy of the vast Yuanmingyuan gardens in Hengdian Town, a site that provides sets for Chinese films and TV dramas in the eastern province near Shanghai.

The Hengdian council, which was one of the sponsors, said earlier that construction work would start this year and the replica would open to tourists in 2013.

The new Summer Palace would involve an estimated 20 billion yuan (US$2.9 billion) in private investment and cover 411 hectares, according to the council, headed by Xu Wenrong, chairman of the Hengdian Group, an industrial and entertainment conglomerate.

Under the initial plan, the Dongyang government divided the project into seven sub-projects. Otherwise it would have needed approval from China's State Council, the Shanghai Office of Land Supervision under the Ministry of Land and Resources found.

It also found that a large parcel of farmland was earmarked for the project.

Regulations issued by the ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission in 2006 stipulated that theme parks are banned from building on farmland.

"Hengdian Town has prepared for 10 years to build the Yuanmingyuan replica as it wished to revive the glory of ancient Chinese garden architecture," said Chen Qixian, deputy director of the Dongyang publicity department.

Chen said the local government thought it should support the project as it could help spur the economy without the need for government investment.

After the probe, authorities disbanded the coordination office for the replica preparatory work and disciplined Ren Liping, head of Dongyang's development and reform commission.

Hengdian's Xu said he was sorry about the government decision but pledged that he would not continue the project unless the land is given the green light.

The replica plan triggered fierce criticism after it was announced in February last year in Beijing as many people accused the company of mixing patriotism with show business.

Yuanmingyuan authorities also expressed opposition to the plan, saying, "The Old Summer Palace is unique and irreplaceable. A full-size replica is neither possible nor tolerable."


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