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Recreating the new urban complex

Drawing inspiration from Singapore, experts put their heads together to design a master plan for the island's first megapolis in the western region:

The Western Region Megapolis Development Plan, the flagship development project of the new administration to put the island's western region on the world map as an attractive destination with solid infrastructure, is now in the planning stage, supervised by keen-eyed Singaporean experts.

Visualisation of the western region megapolis development plan by the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project

The expert team is in Colombo at present, on a second visit, to assist the Sri Lankan team, in the preparation of a master plan.

The Surbana Urban Planning Group of Singapore is assisting the government to make the western region megapolis project a reality and is playing a key role in drawing up the western region megapolis master plan as expeditiously and soundly as possible.

Jeffrey Ho, the Senior Consultant, Surbana International Consultants Pte. Ltd, speaking to the Sunday Observer said, the master plan to develop the western region megapolis is aimed at positioning the entire western region of Sri Lanka to be a place that can attract investors from across the globe and to create opportunities for development that would improve the quality of life.

A new design

"Our effort is to create a western region in the island, once visited, would be a place that visitors will remain attracted to. That strong impact is what we wish to create," he added.

This is the second time the Surbana Urban Planning Group is here in Sri Lanka to kick start this project. The company was in Sri Lanka way back in 2003, for the same purpose, when the UNF Government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in power.

In 2004, the first megapolis plan was proposed for the Western Province, known as the CESMA plan. However, it was discarded by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration that assumed office in 2005.

"We are here for the second time and going through a process of reviewing the plans and working with the team again, in a bid to position Sri Lanka's western region on the world map. The whole idea is to create a master plan to make the Western Region Megapolis a reality," Jeffrey Ho said.

Jeffrey Ho, Senior Consultant, Surbana International Consultants Pte. Ltd
Photo Wimal Karunathilake

According to him, the master plan will be prepared by the Sri Lankan team and the Singaporean team will offer perspectives as to how modern cities of international standard can be developed.

"From 2003 to now, many developments have taken place here. More people are embracing the concept too. If there is a good plan, designed with precision, and if the government makes an effort to make things happen, I am sure we can put Sri Lanka's western region in the world map as an international destination," he added.

He said they can share the Singaporean experience with Sri Lanka to enable the island to achieve the kind of standards reached by Singapore, a country that underwent a serious development process, post independence.

"We know what can be done and what should not be done. We learnt that as we developed Singapore and made more transitions along the way. Our greatest lessons from this learning process will be shared with Sri Lanka, as the country prepares for a developmental transition and prepares to create its first megapolis in the western region. The idea is not to duplicate what we have in Singapore but to use the principles of city creation, the Singaporean perspective and develop an action plan. The Singaporean lessons can be effectively used to develop the identified region into an international city," he noted.

He also opined that identifying the area as a megapolis would offer it international branding and the tag 'Western Region' would add value to the same.

"But it is not just a name. It is a name that will be proof of a mega city. It is our vision to help the Sri Lankan vision to create a Western Region Megapolis a reality," he added.

The Singaporean team is currently engaging with the Urabn Development Authority (UDA), the Western Region Development Ministry and other relevant agencies to develop the relevant master plan - the island's very first.

"We are bringing everybody's viewpoints to a single forum to create a solid, single plan. This is not an easy task. We are making good progress since our last visit," he added.

Progress

The Western Region Megalopolis Planning Project is now working on the various aspects of the consolidated project such as aero city that is to be established in the Katunayake-Minuwangoda area, a forest city in Kalutara and also a tech city with special emphasis on IT development in Malabe-Homagama.

The Western Region Mega polis also aims at creating tourism cities from Negombo to Maggona, Industrial Zones in Horana and Mirigama, administrative cities in Kaduwela, Kadawatha and Kottawa.

At present, the teams are looking as to how these aspects could be effectively converged into a final Western Region Mega polis project.

"We are at the planning stage. We cannot say that we have finished planning and are ready to implement. We don't work that way. We have to design and review in several intervals because the world is changing so fast that the plans need to be futuristic. There are new trends we are still not aware of and we have to include them in our plans to ensure the plan tasks the future into account," Ho said.

The important thing is, he said, is to have a master plan. "When we have a plan, we have a future. When we don't have a plan, there is no future," he added.

In terms of infrastructure needs, the master plan looks at transportation, the areas for business, allocation of living spaces and the measures to protect our natural environment.

"We are also looking at streamlining the Port City Project and we must see how to integrate that into our plan," he added.

The Singaporean team discussing the western region megapolis planning project officials

Ho said emphasis would fall on transportation, a huge concern, and mechanisms to address the traffic congestion.

"Transportation a problem not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. We have to lean towards public transport. To do that, it should be ideally a car-less city. You may cycle to work but the majority should use public transportation. This also requires good pedestrian linkages, landscaping and facilities within walking distance. If we do all these things, driving to and from work will significantly reduce," he added.

To ease traffic congestion, there should be better traffic control at the junctions." In 2003, we proposed traffic control junctions to manage the flow of traffic, replacing roundabouts. It is a simple solution."

Singapore is trying out the 'driverless car' as a solution to the traffic congestion. Innovations should be tried out in managing the traffic congestion and planning for the future means the inclusion of these aspects," he said.

Ho, commenting on the widely accepted 'smart city concept' said, any city embarks on anything with a strong IT involvement is really smart. "If Sri Lanka desires cities which are smarter, progressive initiatives to achieve convenience, comfort for the residents remain priorities.

"Essentially, a smart city means one that provides you with comfort in the way one dabbles in business, has improved living standards and solid governance structures. I don't see why the western region or entirety of Sri Lanka cannot be smart because already, the essential features of a smart city do exist here," he added.

Ho also noted that this new change was not new or unique to Sri Lanka. "Every country is going through the same process."

Smart options

"Everybody's opinion should be taken into account and finally this will be a people's plan. This is not going to be a plan by the government. We do a plan because we need this for the people", he added.

He said they can make use of the Singaporean experience to face those challenges to make the western region megapolis a reality.

"We have the experience on how to translate ideas into plans, to see things very quickly and how to apply them, process them and keep people informed gradually and get them to understand it. This is the sort of expertise we have developed in Singapore and I hope we can share this experience with Sri Lanka when developing the Western Region Megapolis master plan", he added.

While the ambitious new project is being planned, Ho said that certain catalytic projects can take off soon.

"These are important projects needed to improve the quality of life. These are essential to get started with this project. Certain projects need to be initiated slowly. We can't do everything in one go. It is a long process. We need funds and investors," he added.

"I am not the one who makes it happen. It is the Sri Lankan Government and the public servants who are going to make it happen. We are here to help you to do the mapping. It must be Sri Lankan map not a Singaporean map. It's your goal and your destination," Ho said.

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