DEVELOPMENT PLANS FOR THE CITY OF COLOMBO
(SUJATA JAYAWARDENA MEMORIAL ORATATION BY
SECRETARY DEFENCE MR. GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA)
"All of us desire a better Colombo; a city that is
clean, green, attractive and dynamic. Let us work together and work hard
to achieve this. Together, we can transform Colombo into a world-class
city, globally recognized as a thriving, dynamic and attractive regional
hub that is the centrepiece of 21st Century Sri Lanka: the Miracle of
Asia", stated Secretary Defence Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday (Dec
Delivering the Sujata Jayawardena memorial speech at
the Sri Lankan Foundation Institute in Colombo, Mr. Rajapaksa further asserted that, the
emergence of a large middle class in India numbering roughly 500
million, there are many opportunities for Colombo to position itself as
a preferred destination for business, shopping and vacations.
"With the country's abundance of educated, qualified
and English speaking workers, there is potential to further develop
Colombo as a destination for business process off-shoring. This city
should not simply be the focal point for localised economic activity but
should also tap international opportunities. The city can easily attract
more tourists as well as foreign investment in a number of areas" , he
Full text of the Sujata Jayawardena memorial speech
delivered by Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Sri Lankan
I am grateful to the Alumni Association of the
University of Colombo for having invited me to deliver this year's
Sujata Jayawardena Memorial Oration. I am well aware of the service
rendered to the University by Mrs. Jayawardena. In addition to her many
contributions to the arts and her outstanding work on behalf of many
charities, she is warmly remembered for her efforts to develop a closer
relationship between the University, its undergraduates and its alumni.
Mrs. Jayawardena's successful campaign to build a
hostel for women undergraduates at Bullers Lane was her crowning
achievement as past President of the Alumni Association. This complex,
which houses over five hundred women from all around Sri Lanka while
they study at Colombo University, stands as a proud memorial to this
distinguished and generous alumna. I am deeply conscious, as I begin
today's oration, of its similar significance.
I am also deeply conscious that the topic of this
oration is of deep interest to most of us here today. Colombo is a city
we are deeply connected to. It has most of the best educational
institutions, hospitals, residential facilities and tourist facilities.
The central administrative units of the Government are also located
within the Greater Colombo Area. For these reasons it is safe to say
that nearly every Sri Lankan has had or someday will have a link to this
city. That is why I approach this oration on the Development Plans for
the City of Colombo with a great sense of responsibility.
Colombo is a historic city, known in the ancient world
for being a gateway to Sri Lanka. It was visited by Fa-hsien, who came
to Sri Lanka in the fourth century, and it is mentioned in the
fourteenth century writings of Ibn-Batuta.
From the sixteenth century onwards it was one of the
centres of colonial activity. The Portuguese established a trading post
in 1505 and built the Fort in 1518. For almost a century and a half it
was their stronghold, until the Dutch captured it in 1656. A hundred and
forty years later, the British took over Colombo. After the fall of
Kandy in 1815, they made it the capital of the crown colony of Ceylon.
The development of Colombo as a commercial and
residential hub owes a lot to the British. Unlike the Portuguese and the
Dutch, who viewed it mostly as a military fort and trading post, the
British set about making Colombo a proper city. They set up the Colombo
Municipal Council in 1865 and undertook the developments that turned the
harbour into one of the great ports in the region. The first formal
development plans for the city were also made during British rule.
The 1921 city plan by Sir Patrick Geddes provided for
expansions to the port, the setting up of parks and the zoological
garden. It paved the way for the further development of internal roads,
including present day R. A. de Mel Mawatha (Duplication Road), which was
created as a relief road to Galle road. Although the 1921 plan was not
fully carried out, it contained important proposals that have helped
shape the city's present identity.
The 1940 Development Plan and Town Planning Ordinance
established outline plans for the municipal area and regulations for its
development. However, due to financial constraints, the plan was not
fully implemented. This non-implementation of plans for the city is a
recurring theme in its history.
After independence, the 1949 plan by Patrick
Abercrombie outlined the development of Ragama, Homagama and Ratmalana
as satellite towns that would help decentralise urban activities in the
region. The plan included a ring road to link these towns and the
shifting of central administrative functions to Ratmalana. This
principle of decentralisation has been one of the driving thrusts of
Colombo's development plans ever since. Unfortunately, it has not yet
been properly realised.
Several other plans followed, in 1978, 1985, 1998, and
during the last decade. None of these were fully implemented. These
half-implemented plans for Colombo contributed to creating the large,
improperly organised city we know today. Future plans for the city's
development must be viewed within the context of this history.
Future Development Thrust
Another context for these plans is the overall
development agenda of Sri Lanka. The driving thrust of the medium term
plan is to double, per capita income from US$2,000 to US$4,000 within a
period of five years. The recent Budget Speech delivered by His
Excellency the President outlined several measures needed to achieve
this target, including ambitious plans to increase foreign and local
investment, promote tourism, improve the national infrastructure,
enhance land utilisation and encourage village centred growth.
While these plans are vital for encouraging regional
development, it must be understood that cities are the driving force of
economic growth today. Cities serve as a focal point for commercial
activities, investment, and the provision of administrative and social
services. That is why, alongside its wide-reaching plans for encouraging
regional growth, the Government also has comprehensive plans for the
improvement of Colombo.
These plans are centred on creating further scope for
business activities, residential facilities and the provision of
services. These will all cater to present and future opportunities that
Colombo can exploit. This city should not simply be the focal point for
localised economic activity but should also tap international
opportunities. The city can easily attract more tourists as well as
foreign investment in a number of areas.
With the emergence of a large middle class in India
numbering roughly 500 million, there are many opportunities for Colombo
to position itself as a preferred destination for business, shopping and
vacations. Colombo will also be the gateway for religious pilgrimages
and tours in the rest of the country for these visitors, whose culture
has deep historic links with ours. Another area in which Colombo has
great potential is the provision of conference and convention facilities
for international events.
With the country's abundance of educated, qualified
and English speaking workers, there is also potential to further develop
Colombo as a destination for business process off-shoring. Yet another
area in which Colombo can benefit is through the setting up of
international educational institutions that will provide affordable but
high quality education to foreign students.
In order to tap these opportunities and realise its
true potential, there are several aspects of Colombo that need further
improvement. These include increasing hotel capacity, particularly in
terms of luxury accommodation for high spending tourists; developing
overall IT infrastructure to encourage foreign companies to send their
operations here; providing more residential facilities for high
net-worth individuals and providing quality housing for middle-income
Most importantly of all, Colombo needs to enhance its
image as a preferred destination for international business and tourism,
as well as a very comfortable city for all its residents. There is a
need to create more public outdoor recreation spaces, with mini parks
and community parks for residential areas and larger public parks within
the city. There should also be more greenery on the side of the streets.
Through these improvements, we will be able to create a clean, green,
attractive city that will be the centre of a resurgent Sri Lanka. How we
can achieve this must be viewed from the context of what present-day
Colombo Today Colombo today is a large metropolis with
a population of over 650,000. On a daily basis, hundreds of thousands
more commute to the city from the surrounding regions for work and
education, and to obtain commercial and administrative services. In
terms of the facilities and services available as well as the general
infrastructure, Colombo is the most developed city in the country.
For this reason, it is the centre of a lot of economic
activity. It is the axis of the Western Province, which contributes more
than 50% of national Gross Domestic Product, contains about 37,000
industrial production units, employs over half a million people and
generates more than half a trillion rupees in value added services. As
the focal point of all this activity, Colombo is not just the most
economically important city in Sri Lanka; it is the engine room of the
And yet there are so many problems that have long
beset Colombo. These problems stem from a number of factors including
the lack of political will to reduce overdependence on the city,
regulatory confusion, poor funding, administrative inefficiency, and
short-term planning. As a result, despite all the positive things one
can say about Colombo, the following is also true: the city is badly
congested, has been poorly regulated, has overburdened infrastructure,
lacks affordable housing, and suffers from generally poor land
allocation and utilisation.
There are many symptoms of these problems. The poor
application of regulations has resulted in large numbers of unauthorised
buildings that congest the streets, block the waterways and disfigure
the city. The recent flooding in Colombo is partly due to these
structures. Underserved settlements in Colombo-slums and shanties-house
some 70,000 families. This is over half the population of the
metropolitan area. Due to poor land allocation and poor real estate
development, there is little affordable housing for the middle class.
This has pushed residential growth outwards, resulting in heavy traffic
congestion at commute times.
Apart from these inherited structural issues, there
are many other less complex problems that have prevented the fulfilment
of Colombo's potential. These include the lack of improvements to the
drainage system, which is the other cause of the recent floods; the lack
of a proper waste management system; the lack of a conscious effort to
beautify the city; and the general lack of discipline in the use of
Current Development Plans
Having discussed the opportunities Colombo needs to
target, and the difficulties it needs to overcome, I would like to
outline the measures that have recently been taken to address them.
The Development of Community Housing
The most pressing problem in Colombo today involves
the slums and shantytowns that house so much of its population. The
people in these underserved settlements live in terrible conditions with
few of the facilities most of us take for granted. The quality of their
housing is extremely poor. They lack uniform access to proper sanitation
and pipe borne water. The electricity they use is often tapped illegally
and poses a significant fire hazard. Their houses are concentrated
within an extremely small area and they have virtually no privacy.
Nevertheless, due to the economic dominance of the
Greater Colombo Area, the people in these settlements provide an
essential labour pool for the activities in the city. Because of this,
it is necessary to relocate them to better housing facilities within
Colombo rather than look to shifting them outside. In this regard, the
Government has taken action to construct high-rise community housing
within the metropolitan area to accommodate these people. The improved
facilities they will receive should lead to the upgrading of their
quality of life.
Relocation projects for underserved settlements have
been tried in the past. The Sahassapura complex in Dematagoda was set up
eight years ago, while the complex at Gunasinghapura was set up even
earlier. These projects were generally successful in improving the
quality of housing and rationalising the use of land, but there were
also a few systemic weaknesses that limited the uplifting of living
standards of the occupants. These included the lack of a proper funding
mechanism for long-term maintenance; little effort being taken to
educate the occupants and prepare them for life in a new environment;
and the lack of comprehensive community facilities. These past
experiences have been studied and remedies to such problems have been
introduced in the projects that are currently under way.
I am pleased to note that the occupants of the 320 new
housing units constructed at Dematagoda have shown that they are quite
happy with the facilities they have received. The Dematagoda complex is
only one of many projects that are presently under way. Another 680
units are to be built there, along with a 3,128-unit complex at
Salamulla for which the foundation stone was recently laid. The
Government's target is to relocate 30,000 of the 70,000 families to new
community housing within the next two years. Land for these new centres
has already been identified, and discussions have been held with a
number of interested companies for the construction of these facilities.
Several plans have already been submitted for UDA approval, and
construction work is scheduled to begin shortly.
The cost of this programme is not cheap. Each new
residential unit that is established will cost approximately two million
rupees. Considering the number of units that need to be created, this is
a very large cost to the Government. However, it is possible to fund
these community housing projects through allocating the valuable land
liberated through relocation for development activities.
Because the slums and shantytowns are all single
storey or low-rise buildings, they occupy vast areas of land. Since the
community housing to be provided will be in high-rise building
complexes, a lot of Government land will be freed in Colombo, which will
be earmarked for development. This liberated land can be used for
tourism and residential facilities, business activities and other
services. A great deal of foreign investment is also anticipated for
these development projects. For these reasons, the feasibility of the
project is assured.
A further benefit is that through relocations, slums
and shantytowns will no longer disfigure the city. Many of these
unauthorised structures are centred on strategic reservations around the
public waterways and the sides of the railway tracks. In particular, our
waterways are badly polluted because of the settlements on the sides of
the canals. As a result, the canals require a lot more maintenance in
order to function properly. Through the relocation programme, it will be
a lot easier to clean up the waterways and create more public spaces
including promenades, walkways, cycle-paths and parks around the canals
to enhance the city's greenery and beauty. This will create a healthier
environment for the people in the city.
The most important aspect of the community housing
project is the uplifting of the living standards of Colombo's low-income
families. Through greatly improving their housing facilities and
introducing them to a more comfortable way of life, we will be able to
provide these people with the domestic environment they need to achieve
social mobility. This is the greatest contribution of the relocation
programme to the people of Colombo.
Another area being looked into in terms of housing is
the relocation or redevelopment of run-down, legally owned structures in
Colombo. This is particularly prominent in areas in Colombo North like
Slave Island, Fort and Grandpass, where there are a lot of small,
haphazardly scattered, private houses that should be upgraded. Unlike
the slums and shantytowns, these buildings are not unauthorised
structures. As a result, the UDA is discussing the best way for their
redevelopment with the owners as well as private developers. This
programme is being set up as a public-private partnership that will be
facilitated by the UDA. I am pleased to note that there has been a good
response to this initiative so far.
The Relocation of Government Buildings Another project
being implemented in parallel with the community-housing programme is
the relocation of Government offices and buildings from Colombo city to
Sri Jayawardenepura. As mentioned earlier, the sending out of Government
buildings from Colombo to a separate administrative capital has been
planned a long time. However, even though this programme was part
carried out in the 1980s, there are still too many Government offices
still occupying prime locations in Colombo. Many of them are located in
housing intended for government servants in residential areas, which
causes a lot of inconvenience to the people in the area. All of these
should be shifted to the administrative capital.
As a first step towards speeding up the relocation of
Government buildings, a programme is being set up to shift the offices
of the Defence Ministry, Chief of Defence Staff and the Headquarters of
the Armed Services to a combined office complex in Battaramulla. The
Government is in the process of making arrangements to provide the lands
that will be released through this relocation for the development of
luxury hotels and residential facilities in the heart of Colombo. Plans
have been finalised for an industry leading international hotel chain to
create world-class signature developments on these lands.
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. This will finally achieve the goal
of rationalising overall land use through centralising administrative
functions at Sri Jayawardenepura.
Improvements to Colombo Fort In parallel to moving
central administrative functions out of the city of Colombo, work is
being carried out to enhance the central business district. The area
around Fort is the oldest part of the city and has several historic
landmarks and buildings. It is also home to the head offices of many
businesses. The Fort area also has the advantage of being a sea front
city. 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.
One immediate measure is the relocation of pavement
hawkers. It was realised early on that although these people carried out
their business in unauthorised structures that obstructed city
activities, they comprised a large group of self-employed people with a
lot of entrepreneurial spirit. That is why the Government has helped
these people by constructing separate central market facilities where
they can continue to ply their trades. Similar initiatives have been
taken to relocate pavement hawkers in Borella and Nugegoda.
Another project in progress is the relocation of
certain facilities to less obtrusive sites that will not impact the
city's image. The St. John's fish market is being relocated to
Peliyagoda, where a modern facility has been erected. A Dubai-style Gold
exchange will be built in its place in Pettah. The Manning market and
the Wholesale market have also been earmarked for relocation. The
central bus stand will be relocated within the vicinity and will be
provided better facilities. Through these measures, the use of land in
the Fort area will be rationalised. More open spaces will be introduced,
and historic buildings and other landmarks will gain greater emphasis.
Other, simpler methods are also in place to beautify
the Fort area and make it a much more pleasant location. The historic
city centre is presently in a high security zone that allowed only
limited public access until recently. This area 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.
Old buildings are to be renovated and preserved so
that their character can be brought out. New developments can also be
situated in this area, but only in such a way as not to clash with the
existing buildings. A good example of this is the creation of luxury
hotel and residential facilities within historic buildings such as the
Cargills Building and the Grand Orient Hotel. The idea is to modify the
interior while keeping the exterior intact. Discussions are already
underway with the owners of these buildings in this regard. Through all
these measures, the Colombo Fort area will be repositioned as a
recognised world-class historic city.
City Development Adjoining the South Harbour
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 being drawn 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.
Because this reclaimed city will be planned entirely
afresh, it will have all necessary infrastructure, public facilities and
services from the very beginning. Nearly half of the reclaimed area will
be set aside for common facilities that will promote recreational
activities and tourism. These could well include open parks, water
features, a sea front promenade, a marina, an open-air theatre, and even
an underwater recreational facility. The other half of the city space
will be dedicated for commercial and tourist developments as well as
high quality residential facilities.
Transportation within this city space will be through
a proper road network that will include many shaded pedestrian only
zones. High quality public transport will be provided to minimise the
number of vehicles in the city, and a supplementary elevated monorail
system is also being considered. Because the quality of services and
facilities to be provided needs to be at a very high level, a separate
city council for its administration is also being considered. Once this
project is completed, it will vastly enhance Colombo's image as the
dynamic, modern urban centre.
Before Colombo reaches this status however there are
several facilities and services that need to be improved and developed.
The Development of Waterways Foremost among these is
the solution to the present flooding problem. This is being undertaken
in several steps. First, all the unauthorised structures that blocked
the drainage system are being removed. It is not only the low-income
segments that have erected unauthorised structures along these
reservations, but businesses, the middle-class and high-income segments
as well. All of these structures are being demolished, and along with
the relocation of settlements on the sides of the waterways, this will
greatly improve the efficiency of the drainage system.
Further, since last year, the Sri Lanka Navy has been
engaged in dredging and developing the canal system in the city. Unlike
in previous years, when this work was undertaken on a section-by-section
basis, this time around the dredging of the entire canal system has been
undertaken. Close to 80% of the work in this regard has already been
Along with the development of the canals, water
retention areas within the city such as the Beira Lake are being
dredged. New reservoirs are being developed in the general area of
Battaramulla, which will prevent the flooding of the parliament area.
The reservoir already created at Peliyagoda already proved its worth
during the recent rains. These measures will improve the drainage system
by providing more areas within the city for water to collect before
being sent out. In addition to solving the flood problem, these measures
will also help to beautify the city by creating more water spaces and
open areas. Colombo should not be a concrete jungle, but a green city
with a pleasing environment. By improving the quality of the water
retention areas, the overall environment will be greatly enhanced.
A final additional benefit of the clearing of the
waterways and improvements to the water retention areas is that there
will be scope to develop more water based recreational activities.
Windsurfing, sailing, water skiing and even punting or paddle boating
can easily be developed. This will further increase the services
available in Colombo.
Developing a Clean City
Another area that needs attention has been the
collection and disposal of solid waste. The immediate problems have been
rectified by regularising the collection of garbage through police
supervision, and by improving the dumpsites for Colombo's garbage at
Meethotamulla in Kolonnawa. It is essential that a proper system of
collecting and disposing garbage will continue to be enforced.
Converting the present garbage dumps into proper sanitary landfills is
another project that will be prioritised.
Keeping the city clean also involves a lot of civic
discipline, and this is an area in which the citizens of Colombo need to
improve. Whatever attempts made to improve the garbage collection system
will not be enough if people randomly dump trash on the streets. Similar
disrespect can be seen in the way people paste posters at random
locations, rather than on the public notice boards that have been set
apart for them.
The amount of graffiti sprayed on the city walls is
another eyesore caused through the indiscipline of some misguided
individuals. The signboards and billboards in the city also need to be
standardised and regulated better. These issues will need to be
addressed through a combination of civic education and stricter
enforcement if Colombo is to become a truly clean city.
Yet another area in which Colombo needs improvement is
in its transportation facilities. There are several areas that need
attention, including improvements to the road network, improving road
discipline and the provision of alternate public transport. Several
measures have been taken in the recent past to address these issues.
The road network is being enhanced through the
improvements to Galle road, the completion of 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. Finally, with the improvements to the waterways, it has
become possible to provide alternate transportation through ferry
services. This is already being introduced in certain waterways through
the Sri Lanka Navy.
Implementation of Zoning
One other key issue facing Colombo is that existing
zoning regulations have not been properly implemented. This has created
many problems in residential areas, some of which have virtually been
destroyed by the setting up of commercial structures. The exising zoning
regulations will be strictly implemented, while adequate warning and
time will be given for the relevant businesses to relocate. Zoning rules
will be strictly enforced for all new developments in future.
Long Term Solutions
The projects and measures that I have discussed so far
are immediate, practical methods of transforming Colombo from its
present status into a world-class city. Alongside this project-oriented
approach, it will also be necessary to introduce long-term measures to
prevent the causes that led to the haphazard growth of Colombo. In terms
of regulation, the different sector policies that result in overlapping
and contradictory laws and regulations will need to be streamlined.
Responsibilities must be clearly delegated amongst the central,
provincial and local bodies that regulate land allocation, utilisation,
zoning and other administrative functions. Solving this problem will
require some reengineering within Government.
It is very important that all the relevant agencies
such as the Municipal authorities, the UDA, Water Supply & Drainage
Board, land reclamation authorities, and the utilities and
infrastructure development authorities work with great dedication,
commitment and coordination to improve the metropolitan areas. It is
also important to note that Colombo cannot be considered in isolation,
but the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia, Kotte and Kolonnawa municipalities must
all function collectively. Ultimately it is necessary to establish a
single central authority to coordinate these various administration
Along with this administrative streamlining, the
ad-hoc planning methodologies that were observed in the past will need
to give way to proper strategic planning processes that analyses
available resources, conceptualises a bold vision for the future, and
generates a proper integrated, dynamic structural plan for future
development. It is essential that all future plans ultimately uplift the
living standards and income levels of the people. Through greater
consultations with all relevant stakeholders and with some capacity
enhancements, it will be possible to move to a comprehensive strategic
planning process that will maximise the use of resources and accelerate
The development plans, projects, and policy proposals
I have outlined during the course of this oration stem from the
Government's sincere commitment to develop Colombo. However, if we are
to be truly successful in this endeavour, the state cannot work alone.
There are many areas in which the private sector,
academic institutions, civic bodies and ordinary people can contribute.
These stakeholders must get involved in the planning and implementation
of new initiatives. It is important that these various sectors of
society are empowered to do so, and that a culture of discourse and
consultation is fostered in the planning processes. Towards this end,
the state agencies concerned need to reach out to society at large and
encourage greater public participation in these activities. The private
sector and civic bodies also need to take the initiative to generate
further proposals for future developments.
As importantly, the private sector must take the lead
in capitalising on the opportunities that will arise through the present
and future development plans. Although as a developing economy Sri Lanka
needs foreign investment to help fund future growth, it is the domestic
private sector that must drive the activities that will generate
prosperity. It is vital that we create domestic assets to capitalise on
future growth opportunities if the foundations we lay today are to lead
to a better tomorrow.
All of us desire a better Colombo; a city that is
clean, green, attractive and dynamic. Let us work together and work hard
to achieve this. Together, we can transform Colombo into a world-class
city, globally recognized as a thriving, dynamic and attractive regional
hub that is the centrepiece of 21st Century Sri Lanka: the Miracle of
Asia. Let us make this vision a reality.