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Defence Secretary reveals details of Colombo City development plan

Apr 4, 2011 10:42:36 PM- transcurrents.com

About 70,000 families identified as shanty or slum dwellers in the city of Colombo would be relocated within the next two years in high-rise community housing units that are to be developed for them within the city, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.


Mr. Rajapaksa revealed this and several other development plans that are underway in Colombo, while addressing the American Chamber of Commerce last Monday on “Development Plans for the City of Colombo.”
He said a major problem facing the city was the presence of shanties or slum dwellings –home to some 70,000 families amounting to over half the population of the metropolis. “Uplifting the quality of life of this section of the population is one of the Government’s major concerns,” he said.

Land for new community housing complexes have already been identified within Colombo and discussions with a number of interested companies have commenced,” he said. The Defence Secretary said such a programme would be costly, with each unit or apartment costing approximately rupees two million. But, he said it would possible to raise the needed funds through allocating the freed land for development activities.

Mr. Rajapaksa added while Colombo was the largest city in the country and contributed to over 50% of the national GDP, compared to other Asian cities, Colombo had much more room to grow. “The economic density of Colombo is approximately only US$ 15 million per square kilometre.

“In comparison, the economic density of Ho Chi Minh City is US$ 73 million; Bangkok is US$ 88 million and Singapore is US$ 269 million. “This indicates the growth Colombo should aim for, especially in the current context,” he said.
He added, after many decades with the country at peace, it was finally possible to realize its true potential.

Colombo he said had a great role to play in unlocking this potential. However before this rejuvenation could succeed, there were many problems that needed to be addressed, one of which was the prevention of floods. The Secretary Defence said it was to face this problem; unauthorized structures which blocked the drainage systems were being removed.

He added “It is not only low-income segments of society who have erected unauthorized structures on reservation land, but industrialists, the middle-class and high-income segments as well. All these structures are being demolished and would greatly improve the efficiency of the drainage system,” he said. He said the Sri Lanka Navy, the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation Board and the Development Corporation had been engaged in dredging and developing the canal system in the city. “Medium term plans are being prepared to improve the entire drainage system in the metro Colombo region.

“Under a project funded by the World Bank, the Beira Lake and other vital water retention areas are to be completely dredged, de-silted and fully rehabilitated alongside significant improvements to the existing canal network”, he added.

The rehabilitation of old and the creation of new lakes in the greater metropolitan region, improvements to existing drainage channels, gates and pumping houses will be carried out as part of this endeavour.

The Secretary said relocation of government buildings to Sri Jayewardenepura was being implemented in parallel with the community-housing programme.

“Shifting these offices to the administrative capital is a necessary step in rationalising land use in Colombo. As a first step towards speeding up relocation, the offices of the Defence Ministry, Chief of Defence Staff and the headquarters of the armed services are being moved out of Colombo while the land released from the relocation is being allocated for development activities. This will effectively fund the relocation process while also generating vital economic activity within the city” he said.

“The Shangri La group has agreed to construct a luxury hotel and residential complex on 10 acres of land that was allocated to the Army near Galle Face. A Chinese company, CATIC, has undertaken to establish a skyline hotel on an adjacent block of land. These agreements have already generated a large influx of funds, which has been allocated for the combined Defence Headquarters Complex currently being constructed at Battaramulla. Another project being expedited is the second phase of the Sethsiripaya complex.

This high-rise building, once completed, will house many of the remaining Government offices in Colombo. A thirty-storey building will be constructed as the third stage of Sethsiripaya to accommodate the rest.The Secretary said improvements to the Colombo Fort area were also underway. “The area around Fort is the oldest part of the city and has several historic landmarks and buildings. Unfortunately, due to its organic growth through the years, the full potential of this area has not been realised. That is why the Government is putting in place several measures to develop this historic part of the city."

Instead of being a restricted high security area, the Fort will be opened up for businesses, restaurants, museums and other public facilities. Work is in progress to make this a shaded, pedestrian only area that will restore the historic city centre to its original beauty.

He said historic buildings like the Dutch Hospital and the Cargills building are being redeveloped to cater to modern day business requirements. “While the exteriors of the buildings will retain their character, an internal clean up and redevelopment will enable high-end businesses to be set up inside. “

Efforts are underway to develop the Independence Square area and other parts of the city as pedestrian friendly, scenic locales. This will do a great deal to uplift the character of the city as a green, clean, urban environment. While urban regeneration is the common theme of all the projects mentioned so far, the Government also intends to further develop Colombo by creating new city space.

Along with the Colombo South Harbour Development project, plans are in place to create a new city on land reclaimed from the sea. This project will see the creation of a brand new city area nearly 400 acres in extent. He added in terms of road development, a lot of work was being done to improve the infrastructure within the city limits. Examples of these include the upgrading of Galle Road, the completion of the Marine Drive, and the expansion of the one-way system.

The introduction of bus lanes, the creation of more dedicated parking spaces, better facilities for pedestrian crossings including disabled crossings and overhead bridges, and stricter enforcement of road rules will help improve road discipline. The Defence Secretary said that Colombo could not be considered in isolation, but the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia, Kotte and Kolonnawa municipalities should all function collectively.

Development at a glance

- Provision of alternate dwellings for aprox. 70,000 families living in city slums within city.

- Freeing land for development via clearance of unauthorized structures and shifting govt. offices out of Colombo.

- Restoration and redevelopment of historic buildings.

- Creation of pedestrian-friendly locales.

- Changing the character of city into a green urban environment.

- Reclaiming 400 acres of land from the sea and creating of a new city on the reclaimed land.

- Upgrading of the Galle Road, the Marine Drive and expansion of the one-way system.

- Introducing dedicated parking spaces, disabled crossings and strict enforcement of road rules

- Introduction of an alternative transport system via development of waterways and a ferry service

~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~