By Zhang Tianhui, Editor, King & Wood’s Publication Group

As China’s economy continues to develop, the administration of developments in urban and rural areas of China requires a more focused approach to ensure the harmonious development of each area’s economy along with the preservation of local culture, heritage and infrastructure needs. The new system provides localities with guidelines to ensure nationwide consistency while providing a certain amount of autonomy to allow for specific local needs.

The Urban and Rural Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China became effective on January 1, 2008 and replaced the City Planning Law. Previously, urban and rural plans were governed by different laws. The City Planning Law governed urban areas and the Administrative Regulations on the Country and Township Construction Plans governed rural areas. The new law now begins an era of integrated urban and rural planning.

Highlights of the Urban and Rural Planning Law

1. Emphasizing Procedural Requirements such as Notice & Comment Period

2. Tightening Environmental Protection, Natural and Cultural Heritage Protection

3. Strengthening Rural Planning

4. Public Participation and Increasing Supervision and Inspection

5. Providing Relevant Legal Liabilities Punishing Local Governments for Non-compliance.

A Few Hot Issues:

-The Urban and Rural Planning Law stipulates more stringent approval procedures for building premises required by township and village enterprises, rural common facilities or public interest establishments within a township or village planning area. The Urban and Rural Planning Law provides that no farm land can be used for such buildings unless approved by the corresponding department of urban and rural planning under the people’s government of the city or county.

-Chapter III of Implementation of Urban and Rural Planning, provides more complicated construction land-use right approval procedures than that provided in the Land Administration Law and former City Planning Law. Procedures for changing land use purpose are more stringent to curb disorganized allocation, transfer and use of construction land.

-The right to legally recover State-owned land is addressed in Article 58 of the Land Administration Law, which provides that "proper compensation should be given to land use right owners", but the Urban and Rural Planning Law, in line with the legislative spirit of the Property Rights Law , provides that "compensations shall be made according to law". This provision denotes an inclination towards property right holders.

It will be interesting to see how the law is enforced. This could be a great tool for smart growth within China.