The demise of a planned eco-city in China highlights it is not just global economic woes, but more often political machinations, that threaten such projects in China, according to a report in The Economist.

Dongtan, a project located on an alluvial island near Shanghai, was designed by British design firm Arup to house 500,000 people on a 8,600-hectare site. It was billed as a low-carbon alternative to urban sprawl and a blueprint for other eco-cities.

But four years down the track nothing has been built and former Shanghai Communist Party chief, Chen Liangyu, who steered the land into the hands of state-owned developer Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC), is under house arrest for property-related corruption, the report says.

While Arup denies the project has been cancelled, its original plans to move 50,000 residents in by 2010, when Shanghai hosts the World Expo, have been dropped. A new bridge and tunnel spanning the estuary will open to traffic later this year putting Shanghai in commuting distance. This calls into question Arup’s original vision of a compact, mostly car-free community where residents would live and work in green research centres and other such industries, buy local produce and use renewable energy.