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Government Gazette

The changing face of Colombo

The City of Colombo being the Commercial Capital of Sri Lanka has enormous potential to take off the development much greater than that of other capital cities in the South Asian region. Due to political upheavals that prevailed after Independence in 1948, the successive governments have confronted with numerous hurdles in adopting appropriate policies in every sector in the economy.


Wet Zone Park, Nawala

If not for such drawbacks, the strategic location of Sri Lanka in general and the City of Colombo in particular, located in close proximity to vital international marine transportation routes, would have grown dramatically as the key commercial hub of Asia.

The geopolitical climate in Sri Lanka is currently moving forward in an unprecedented manner. It was also revealed that the City of Colombo and all other provincial urban centres have lost many opportunities to achieve sustainable urban development during the recently past.

Urbanisation

The estimated average rate of urbanisation in the country during the period 2010 to 2020 would be in the range of three percent to four percent per annum, while the country's annual population growth rate will be less than 1.2 percent.

These trends suggest that around 60 percent of the population would be living in urban areas by 2020.

With this trend, it is envisaged that the City of Colombo will continue to grow as the prime Commercial Capital of Sri Lanka demanding gradual shift of its administrative boundaries towards the hinterlands. The present government's policy framework is directly involved in the Urban Development Sector and adopted clear strategic actions to develop the City of Colombo and other important and Regional Centres of Sri Lanka.

Regeneration

A number of action projects were undertaken to upgrade the physical condition of the City of Colombo with a face lifting program based on the garden city concept. A lot of leisure activities for the public have been created providing opportunities to witness the real freedom. Parallel to this, the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development has given clear directions to the relevant institutions to address the Colombo's housing problem through new urban development strategies considering the lessons learnt from the previous experience. The regeneration of the city from its present context to face the new development demands would transform the entire city profile into a different scenario with a huge value addition to the properties while addressing sustainability issues of development. In this context, it is necessary to introduce the appropriate steps to strengthen the capacity of the Colombo Municipal Council and other adjoining Local Authorities in the Colombo metro region being the major stakeholder agencies. This aspect too has is taken into account in the current Urban Regeneration action plan.

The Colombo Municipal Council was established in January 1866 by the British rulers along with introducing Provincial, District and Local level administration systems in the country. After gaining independence in 1948, the local political representatives took over the administrative responsibilities of Colombo Municipal Council.

At the time of the establishment of Colombo Municipal Council, the city population had been around 80,000 persons covering an area of 37.32 sq. km. Consisting of 47 Municipal Wards. These 47 Municipal Wards have been clustered into Six (06) Municipal Districts namely, D1, D2A, D2B, D3, D4 and D5 for the purpose of carrying out regular municipal services to its citizens.

According to the population census in 1871, the population of the Colombo was recorded as 98,847 persons with a density of 40 persons per ha.

Thirty (30) years later in 1901, the city had a population of (54.69) and the density was 56 persons per ha. In the year 1931, the population had grown up to 284,155 with an increased density of 84 persons per ha. In the census year 1963, the population had grown up to 511,639 persons with a recorded density of 138 persons per ha. In the census year 2001, the population of the City of Colombo was 642,163 with a density of 172 persons per ha. Hence, based on the annual growth rate in the city, the city population is around the 706,379 persons in 2012.

According to the planning history of the City of Colombo, it was evident that it was the British rulers who have initiated the first Colombo city plan in the year 1921. According to the available information Eminent British Town Planner Sir Patrick Geddes was the first Town Planner to develop the concept of Garden City plan for Colombo, which was known as the “Garden City of the East.” The emphasis of this plan was to preserve the rural spirit in the city plan. Subsequently, the second city plan of Colombo was initiated following the enactment of the Town and Country Planning Ordinance in 1946.

For that purpose, internationally recognised British Town Planner, Sir Patrick Abercrombie was invited to prepare a plan for city of Colombo. Sir Abercrombie's plan of 1949 covered the Colombo Metropolitan Region as a whole but did not translate into detailed proposals. The plan emphasized on decentralisation of the cities’ functions and creation of satellite towns around the city of Colombo. This plan also did not make significant changes to the city structure.

City plan

The third city plan was known as Colombo Master Plan Project prepared by a team of planners assigned under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1978.


Nawala-Rajagiriya Road

The main objective of Colombo Master Plan Project was the promotion of balanced regional development and accelerated economic development of the whole country. The Colombo Master Plan Project covered Colombo District, Gampaha District and part of Kalutara District. The project area was divided into two main regions such as the central sub region and outer region.

The central sub region consisted of the city of Colombo and its adjoining urban areas while the outer region consisted of towns outside the Colombo central sub region.

The significant aspect of Colombo Master Plan Project was that it has provided the basis for all the city planning programs implemented since 1978 in Colombo.

It is also important to record that formulation of the Urban Development Authority Act and establishment of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in 1978 took place as a result of the policy influence of the Colombo Master Plan Project.

Subsequent, city development plans have been prepared by the UDA in close association with the Colombo Municipal Council and other relevant government institutions to change the development pattern of the city of Colombo.

As stated above, the City of Colombo Development Plan of 1985 was prepared by the UDA based on the recommendations of the Colombo Master Plan Project. This city development plan laid the foundation for implementing zoning and building regulations of the City in keeping with the rapid socio economic development trends in the country and in the Western region.

Under this plan, the Colombo city area was divided into fourteen (14) planning units for carrying out planning and development control purposes. Subsequently, the above plan was amended in 1989 and cites as City of Colombo Development Plan (Amendment), 1999.

Ten years later, this city development plan was again amended in the year 2008 by the UDA and is being used for regulating the development activities in the city.

UDA

Another important landmark in the city development plan of Colombo undertaken by the UDA was the preparation of Colombo Metropolitan Regional Structure Plan (CMRSP) in 1988.

The overall objective of the CMRSP was to design a strategic physical plan and formulation of action projects in the CMR with a view to achieve its set goals and objectives.

The plan initiates development of capital city territory, specially the City of Colombo to grow as commercial hub Greater Kotte as Administrative Capital.

It is the fact that the current development structure of Colombo has had many influences by different city and regional development plans prepared and implemented for Colombo and its Metropolitan Region in the past as described above. The major changes that have taken place relate to shifting of most of the administrative offices from the city of Colombo to the new Administrative Capital of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte area concentrated in and around Battaramulla town, shifting of major warehouses and industries to the new industrial towns of Peliyagoda,

Homagama and Horana, shifting of the Army Headquarters from the heart of Colombo to Battaramulla and the redevelopment of Colombo Fort area by replacing low rise buildings with high-rise commercial buildings and offices.

Parallel to the above development changes, some significant improvements in renovation and face lifting of all the colonial buildings in Fort area, expansion of Colombo Harbour added significant value to the development of the City of Colombo.

The Development in the hotels and banking sectors in the city also have changed the city's landscape. Major improvement projects which have been already implemented and those that are proposed in the roads, drainage and sewerage sectors in the city also have contributed to the new development demand in Colombo.

In addition to the above initiatives, the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project implemented by the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development in collaboration with UDA through the financial support of the World Bank has initiated major improvement works in the drainage system of the City of Colombo ant its environs by developing water retention tanks, canals, improvement of access roads and recreational areas aiming at flood control and total environmental improvement in the city and its adjoining areas.


Parliament Ground walkway

The impact of these strategic actions have paved the way to attract major investment projects to the City of Colombo like Sangrilla Hotel, and many high-rise mix developments and condominium apartments.

With all these recent major development programs, the citizens can witness a total transformation of the development pattern of the city of Colombo and its adjoining urban areas to be more environmental friendly, safe and efficient. These changes would contribute to overall physical and economic development in the Western Region and the Sri Lanka as a whole.

The residential areas of the City of Colombo represent significant characteristics in terms of level of income of the residents such as high income residential areas, middle income residential areas, lower middle income areas and low income areas.

Except in the low income areas, all the other residential areas of the city of Colombo do have adequate level of urban basic services such as water supply, sanitation, access roads, electricity and public amenities etc.

Residential areas

Therefore more permanent nature of residential buildings with increased densities exists in more established residential areas mentioned above.

The low income areas represent different characteristics of development constrained by inadequacy or total lack of urban basic services and mostly improvised buildings with no secure land ownership.

Since recently, the low income areas of Colombo have been identified as “Underserved Settlements” taking in to consideration of the specific attributes of these settlements.According to the available literature, the underserved settlements in Colombo have a long history of existence dating back to the colonial era. The colonial rulers had brought unskilled workers from the rural areas of Sri Lanka to Colombo to work in the factories, harbour and other establishments in Colombo.

They had been provided rental houses with shared amenities particularly in Colombo North locations such as Mattakkuliya, Mahawatta, Lunupokuna, Bloemendhal and Kotahena.

The low income areas in these locations started to grow with the new migration population as well as due to natural growth among original low income population.

Continuation of the growth of low income population over the time resulted in inadequacy of rental houses and therefore people began to encroach marginal lands in the city such as marshy areas, railway and canal reservation lands and abandoned paddy lands etc. and land set aside for creating new settlements. These types of settlements are mostly found in the Eastern and Southern parts of the city of Colombo.

Due to location constraints and legal and institutional barriers, it was not possible to provide basic urban services to these newly created settlements.

Hence, they continue to remain as underserved settlements. It was evident that some major development interventions were undertaken by the government institutions and the Colombo Municipal Council to improve these underserved settlements in Colombo since the year 1978.

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