Development and beautification: Transforming Colombo
By Uwin Lugoda
Over the past year, the Government has placed special focus on the development and beautification of Colombo. These development projects are being done as a part of a bigger plan to transform the city within the next 10 to 15 years.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning, the State Minister of Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal, and Community Cleanliness Dr. Nalaka Godahewa stated that all the projects currently being done and those to be initiated, are a part of a plan that goes back to 2014. He explained that during his time as the Secretary of Defence and Urban Development, current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa initiated this plan to evolve Colombo into a world-class city.
“2009 to 2014 was the golden era for Sri Lanka’s urban development. Under President Rajapaksa and then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Colombo was rated as the fastest growing city in Asia, even beating cities in countries like China.”
However, Dr. Godahewa stated that the beautification of the city could not be completed due to the change in government, which took place in 2015. He claimed that the 2015 to 2019 Government saw these projects as unnecessary, and did not understand the master plan.
Taking the Floating Market in Pettah as an example, the Minister stated that this was one of the projects abandoned by the previous Government. He explained that the project was meant to connect the stations of Maradana and Colombo Fort via a walkway filled with entertainment items for people to enjoy.
However, he said that the market which was first opened on 25 August 2014, was soon abandoned by the previous Government. He further alleged that this had led to the market being exposed to things like pollution, deterioration with decaying planks, overflowing drainage systems, garbage accumulation, improper operation of the lighting system, unsafe conditions, unsanitary environment, foul smell, and illegal and undisciplined activities.
Despite this, the market was reopened to the public domain on 7 March 2021, following the instructions of both the President and the Prime Minister.
Government’s master plan
According to Dr. Godahewa, the city is set to be split into several parts in the coming years, each with its defining characteristic.
One of the major developments currently taking place is the relocation of government buildings to the Battaramulla area, which has been mentioned in a recently approved cabinet paper. Dr. Godahewa stated that a large portion of the work with regard to these relocations has already taken place in 2014, with the remaining work to be done soon. The rest of the development on this project is set to be the development of entertainment and nightlife.
He stated that the core city will be split into three components, which will be the commercial hub, heritage hub, and transportation hub.
The commercial hub is set to be Port City which is currently in development. Dr. Godahewa stated that this new city will be run and developed by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission.
He stated that the next component will be the heritage hub, which will be targeting tourists that enter the country. He explained that this will be in Fort, where the buildings are being turned into hotels, entertainment areas, and restaurants.
“This area will only have one or two government buildings, such as the Bank of Ceylon (BOC), and people will get to walk within this heritage city, to and from these new tourist-oriented buildings, like they do in countries such as France.”
The Heritage Square project aims to renovate historical buildings in the Fort area and create pedestrian corridors to connect the buildings, by which tourists can access them via foot. As such, historical buildings such as the current Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters and Foreign Ministry will be repurposed as tourist attractions.
The current CID building is set to turn into a tea museum, while the final decision on the Foreign Ministry building is still pending. The Minister stated that the Foreign Ministry is being moved to the Battaramulla area, while the CID is being relocated to the land opposite the Sri Lanka Telecom head office.
He stated that other projects happening within the Heritage Square include the renovation of the Gaffoor Building and the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH), which reopened its doors on 18 March 2021, following a renovation project costing Rs. 225 million.
“We started this during the 2009-2014 Government as well. We began with the Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex, which has since become a staple of leisure in Colombo. So, we plan on continuing from there onwards,” said Dr. Godahewa.
He went on to state that the third component will be between Pettah Railway Station and the Maradana Railway Station, and will act as a transportation hub within Colombo. The area will include developed rail lines, bus routes, shopping centres, and a business area.
“We have already moved out the fish market and the gem market to make way for these developments. Next, we will move out of the hardware market and all the trading areas like Malwatta Street. New buildings such as sky rises and commercial buildings will take their place. This will be similar to Port City.”
Dr. Godahewa stated that these new cities will also host parks, multi-storey car parks, entertainment components, and trading shops. He reiterated that all these developments are being done to serve a bigger plan, which is mentioned in the President’s National Policy Framework, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”; which calls for the development of four main cities, nine smaller cities, and multiple connecting cities in Sri Lanka.
“We have already planned this out. In the next five to 10 years, we need to find money to do all this.”
The Minister stated that each year, money will be allocated from the budget, towards the projects that need to be done that year.
Alongside the beautification of Colombo, Dr. Godahewa stated that other projects will also be taking place within Colombo. One of these projects is set to provide affordable housing to middle-income families.
“During the 2009-2014 regime, we focused on giving housing to Sri Lankan citizens, with an emphasis on low-income families. This was the ‘Regeneration of Colombo City’, where we planned to move 60,000 slum dwellers into better housing. At that time, we were only able to move about 20,000, but we have since completed this task.”
He stated that under his guidance, the Urban Development Authority (UDA), is now looking to build an initial 5,000 middle-income houses, within a price range of Rs. 10-17 million, with a 13-year loan given to whoever is buying them. He explained that they aim to build 30,000 to 50,000 houses in the next four years.
Dr. Godahewa explained that these houses will be mostly funded by the UDA, with the remaining being private-public partnerships, where the Government provides the land as equity for a private entity to invest in.
“We believe that bringing down the price range of these houses will interest people into moving into more apartments. With the help of the private sector, we will be able to complete at least 100,000 to 200,000 middle-income houses, and if we get the public excited about these apartments, the private sector will greatly benefit as well.”
PHOTO © ANIL THAKUR ON UNSPLASH