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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
China's construction projects 'rushed'
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Rescuers search for victims at the site of a collapsed bridge in Fenghuang
The Fenghuang bridge collapse claimed at least 22 lives
The collapse of a bridge in China has put the spotlight on the nation's many construction projects.

Experts paint a damning picture of the safety standards on such projects, particularly those in remote areas.

They are sometimes rushed - often leading to design or building flaws - in order to finish work on time, or even before expected completion dates.

A lack of properly trained workers also means plans are not always carried out to designers' wishes, experts say.

Tao Hongyi, China director for the bridge builder Dorman Long Technology, says standards vary across the country.

"Big projects in major cities are usually built to a high standard, but lesser projects in remote areas often slip under the radar," says Mr Tao, whose UK-based firm has built eight major bridges in China.

Part of the problem, he says, is China's desire to build infrastructure projects quickly, often to maintain economic growth.

"China is a country driven by dreams, so projects have to meet targets," he adds.

Stadiums for next year's Beijing Olympics, for example, are all on, or ahead, of schedule.

Corruption and skills shortage

Mr Tao says another problem is that big construction projects are controlled by politicians in China, not engineers.

China is a country driven by dreams, so projects have to meet targets
Tao Hongyi, Dorman Long Technology
"These local officials like to see projects delivered on time - it makes them look good," he says.

There is also a lack of skilled foremen, who are vital if design ideas are to be turned into reality by often low-skilled workers.

Corruption is also an issue in the construction industry.

A local party secretary was executed following the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Sichuan Province in 1999, leading to the deaths of 40 people.

It was discovered that the politician had accepted a bribe from a childhood friend in exchange for a bridge-building contract.

Shoddy workmanship

A construction expert, quoted in the state-run China Daily, also criticises the industry.

Xiao Rucheng, secretary-general of the Institute of Bridge and Structural Engineering, says projects are now completed in ever-shorter time spans.

"In the past, designing a bridge needed at least one year, but now it usually takes one month," he said, speaking before the bridge collapse on Tuesday, in Fenghuang County in central China's Hunan Province.

"You even find bridge designers working overnight to finish the task," he adds.

Another problem, he says, is that many of China's 500,000 or so bridges were not built to withstand today's increasing traffic volumes.

"Many bridges were designed and built 20 years ago when designers did not predict the huge traffic flows today," he says.

The problems facing major construction projects in China in mirrored in smaller projects, such as housing developments.

One foreign architect working in Beijing says developers would rather use cheap, shoddy building materials rather than more durable, but expensive, products, even on high-end projects.

"Many buildings in Beijing will have to be torn down and rebuilt in 10 years or so because they've been built so badly," he says.




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Rescuers search the bridge wreckage



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14 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific



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