After three decades of rapid urbanization and industrialization, China faces the challenge of slower economic growth, along with serious environmental issues. To combat these problems, policies regarding the promotion of industrial upgrading and policies working to “suppress the second industry and develop the third industry” have been applied [1
]. As a result, many polluting and energy intensive activities have been required to move out of urban areas to peripheral or rural areas [2
]. According to statistical data of 2015, more than 100,000 factories have closed since 2001, and over 2 million hectares of brownfield lands that had been seriously polluted have been left untreated in major cities of China [3
]. Furthermore, along with the process of industrial upgrading, the brownfield lands would increase 33–47 thousand hectares a year [3
]. Meanwhile, due to limitations on land resources, Chinese local governments have to simultaneously pursue urban development and brownfield land redevelopment (BLR) [4
]. Local governments expect that BLR can not only be treated as a part of urban renewal to enhance the capacity of land revenue [5
] but also promote industrial upgrading and economic growth.
However, a series of public health crises have been subsequently arising during the process of BLR [6
]. Different than the health threats of contaminated arable lands emanating from the food chain [7
], the brownfield lands directly impact human health through oral ingestion, particle inhalation, and dermal contact [8
]. Moreover, the long-term impact can be more significant in the future due to a constantly rising urban population [9
]. Thus, central and local governments in China have to handle the potential environmental and public health risks in the process of BLR [10
]. Despite central and local governments being aware of the seriousness of the issues, the specific standards and policies are not available on details of directly governing the issues of BLR and effectively implementing the process of BLR [12
]. More seriously, the national level funding system (similar to the superfund program in the United States (US) [15
]) and regulations on identifying the responsibility for soil contamination, and accountability for soil remediation are still undeveloped [14
]. It is hard to encourage local governments and the private sector to be proactively engaged in BLR. As a result, many brownfield lands are redeveloped without remediation or complete restoration so that the potential risk from the contaminated soil will continue [11
To cope with the growing threat from soil pollution, the state council of China released the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Soil Pollution
on 28 May 2016. The action plan complements two previously released action plans, which focus on the challenge of air pollution (released in 2013), and water pollution (released in 2015). The aim of the action plan is to ensure that 90 percent of contaminated land, including arable land, industrial land, and commercial land, should be used safely by 2020. This percentage must increase to 95 percent by 2030. Despite targets and macro management of soil pollution abatement, the action plan cannot change the situation that with regard to lacking safety standards, regulations and policies [1
More seriously, a success of urban governance of BLR relies on collaboration in a scalar political-economic setting among multiple actors including the central and local governments, private sectors, and the public [17
]. Furthermore, the collaboration must have a clear distinction between responsibility and accountability [19
], and is financed to support government policies for soil pollution abatement, making it feasible to implement BLR in safety. However, the action plan lacks any concrete proposals and details on the sources of special funds and how to “mobilize and attract private funds into the field of prevention and control of soil pollution through Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) programs
] (p. 21). Furthermore, due to fiscal distress of local governments as well as requirements of economic growth and urbanization, local governments in China are bound with the fiscal revenue from land development and land urbanization, and have formed a profit driven and pro-growth alliance with enterprises and property developers [21
]. Due to limited land resources in developed cities of China and the path-dependence, development paths will spill over into the process of BLR. Thus, following the theoretical framework—the Institutional Industry Complex (IIC)—and based on the toxic soil event in Changzhou, China, we will show that the conventional pro-growth IIC of land finance regime in China has circulated and transformed into a pro-growth IIC of BLR. As a result, the goal of the pro-growth IIC of BLR is for maximizing profit in the process of land development, a goal that is the same as that of the pro-growth IIC of land finance regime. Thus, as the pivotal stockholders of the pro-growth IIC of BLR, local governments, enterprises, and property developers hesitate to pursue a prudent and secure BLR process, which effectively attenuates a series of serious environmental issues and public health crises. That is the fundamental causes of frequently occurring toxic soil events during the process of BLR in China.
In Section 2
, the land finance regime in China within the background of the tax sharing policy is reviewed with reference to its evolution and limitations against the pro-growth Institutional Industry Complex (IIC). In Section 3
, we state that the conventional pro-growth IIC of land finance regime in China has been circulated and is undergoing transformation into a pro-growth IIC of BLR. Under this scenario, local governments, as the pivotal stockholder of BLR, hesitate to pursue a prudent and secure BLR process, which is the real reason that a series of serious environmental issues and public health crises appear frequently. In Section 4
and Section 5
, we present a case study based on a toxic soil event in Changzhou, China, in April 2016. In Section 6
, we discuss the structure and composition of a successful and sustainable urban governance of BLR.
5.1. Industrial Upgrading and De-Industrialization in Changzhou
During the “11th five year plan” (2006–2010), and the subsequent “12th five year plan” (2011–2015), a mass of firms with “three high and one low” (i.e., high involvement, high polluting, high energy consuming, and low profit firms) had been moved out of the main urban area of Changzhou to promote the development of tertiary industry, and advance the proportion of the services sector. As a result, the added value of tertiary industry in Changzhou rose 10.5% to 261 billion yuan in 2015. This is the first time that the proportion of tertiary industry exceeded that of secondary industry. The contribution rate of tertiary industry on economic growth also climbed from 52.7% in 2009 to 68.7% in 2015. Meanwhile, Changzhou government planned to propel new town development in the north and south areas of the main city as needed for further improvement, and an update of industrial structure.
In The Master Plan of Changzhou (2011–2020), the Changzhou government proposed to develop a new downtown by transforming the original industrialized suburbs in the northern area. They also planned to keep intact the old city center where the overcrowding economic actives and population were concentrated. Following the master plan, the government was planning to develop the new north district with three primary capabilities such as a modem residential area, a port of the Yangtze River, and a high end manufacturing base. In the new north district of Changzhou, the second and third type industrial lands were planned to reclaim and transform into first type industrial lands which are pollution-free, and non-harm to surrounding public investment or residential area. As a result, approximately 1.87 square kilometers of second and third type industrial lands were reclaimed until 2015, and all remaining lands will be reclaimed in 2016.
According to this strategy, the Changzhou government is expected to not only avoid the heavy financial burden and social issues, but also gain a huge amount of land revenue through transactions of industrialized land with commercial and residential land in the land market.
5.2. The Formation of Pro-Growth IIC of BLR during the Transition of Economic and Industrial Structure in Changzhou
The polluting factories built on the brownfield land in the case study remained in Changzhou for over three decades. Pollution scandals had been repeatedly exposed even before they moved out. However, because the land is located in the three rivers estuary with specific landscape (Figure 2
), the government believed that transforming the industrial lands into commercial lands had great potential benefits, including attracting new investment to drive the increase of land prices around the area. Prior to the public health crisis, this area had been planned to become a HOPSCA (the area contains Hotel, Office, Park, Shopping mall, Convention center, and Apartment) according to The Urban Design of Three Rivers Estuary of Changzhou
. Following the plan, Changzhou government sold 11 pieces of land in the area to property developers before and during the BLR process. As illustrated in Figure 2
and Figure 3
, many tidy and upscale residential neighborhoods were built in the area. A government official (Interviewee A1) commented that, “It led to billions investment in this area, which could increase GDP growth by about 3 percentage points.”
Moreover, as the rent gap is not just concentrated in economic capital, but can be created from cultural capital that can be transformed into economic capital later, local governments and property developers start to exploit a new rent gap by controlling the distribution of advanced educational resources [57
]. In this case, in addition to the development of high technology industry and commerce activities, the government intends to introduce high quality educational resources to promote the development of this area’s service industry, then attract more immigrants, and consequently form a new growth pole to achieve the land price premium. The pro-growth IIC of BLR had been formed during the development of the new north district in Changzhou. However, the new location of the Changzhou foreign languages school was set, and the most vulnerable students were directly exposed to the toxic environment [59
], even when the environmental risks were mentioned in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report [60
5.3. Public Health Crisis in the Process of BLR
In fact, all EIA reports, including the EIA report of the relocation of the three chemical plants, report the construction of the new school. The EIA report of polluted land abatement directly pointed out the severity of the pollution in the brownfield lands and its environmental hazards [60
]. For instance, the EIA report of polluted land abatement suggested that “about 3475 tons’ industrial waste were remained after the factories moved out” and “the soil and groundwater of this land were severely contaminated so that the environmental risks of the land reuse were unacceptable. [As the results,] pollution remediation must be implemented before the commercial redevelopment” [60
] (pp. 1–2). However, during the whole process of development of the new north district and BLR, environmental issues had not attracted media or public attention until the toxic school outbreak incident. As a farmer (Interviewee D1) living near the brownfield land said, “No one would care about the soil pollution if the key school had not been moved in here.” No attention does not mean the problem does not exist.
The situation that occurred in the process of soil remediation was even more serious. The process of soil remediation did not obey the preordained solution. Contaminated soil was rampantly disposed and buried in the nearby villages. In addition, the contaminated soil was not properly isolated to avoid secondary pollution on the construction site of the soil remediation. As a result, animals in the nearby village died mysteriously and a pungent odor was present.
“When the factories were here, our village always had pungent smell. This situation had not been improved, but been more serious after the factories moved out… many fish were died in my fish’s pond… many trucks came here and dumped residue soil during the night in the beginning of last year (January 2015). Despite the environmental protection agency assuring that residue soil was not contaminated soil, but there was a bad smell”, said by the villagers near the brownfield lands (Interviewees D2–D5).
All these indicated that the local government, enterprises, and property developers in the pro-growth IIC of BLR are in a strong position. The whole BLR process was dominated by them and driven by profit. When the profit driven alliance formed, the public has lost the discourse power for the BLR process, and the environmental protection department has also lost its right of supervision. An official in environmental protection department and environmental impact assessment engineers in the environmental consulting company (Interviewees A2, B1 and B5) commented that “the EIA reports must try to evade some sensitive questions to avoid that the reports will negatively affect the economic growth and urban development.” The adults who live and work, or school children in the surrounding area went through a series of public health crises. Furthermore, the incident caused several communal conflicts in Changzhou and a crisis of confidence over the central and local governments’ failure to deal with the soil pollution and remediation.