Don’t count the country out just yet—urban planners envisage an island that will be developed equitably and sustainably over the next few decades
Despite its diminutive size, Sri Lanka has overwhelmed the country’s land zoning agencies and urban planners. Here is a teardrop-shaped island, sprawling just 660 square kilometres over the Indian Ocean, but bursting at the seams with sensitive ecosystems, forest reserves, water cascades, and highlands, punctuated by more than 100 urban centres, nine major cities, and two metropolitan regions.
Yet the country’s corridors of power have inordinately focused on the urban section of the island; it accounts for almost 40 percent of the populace, after all. More than 90 percent of the island’s real estate activities also converge in Sri Lanka’s urban areas, covering nearly 23 percent of the land.
Development was bound to proceed in a disorderly and ad-hoc manner then. When Dr. Jagath Munasinghe was appointed to the chairmanship of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in 2016, he made it his raison d’etre to craft regulatory measures that bespeak more planned development for the country. “In that dream, the systems are in place so that developers, officials and the citizens are delighted with the services delivered by institutions, service providers and the public desks,” he said.
Munasinghe, who also serves as director-general of the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD), was instrumental in formulating the National Physical Planning Policy and the Plan 2050.
The Plan aims to, by 2050, apportion and guide major physical developments in the country into four main development corridors, led by the East-West corridor connecting Colombo and Trincomalee. “We can expect numerous opportunities to open up for the real state sector with the gradual establishment of these development corridors,” promised Munasinghe.
The National Physical Plan serves as a panacea of sorts to the issues caused by a dearth of development plans for urban areas, which now number as high as 240. For the last 40 years, the UDA has formulated only 40 development plans, some of which are now outdated.
Under Munasinghe, the agency is formulating plans for every urban area, including major cities such as Kandy, Galle, Kurunegala, Rathnapura and Anuradhapura.
The UDA has special plans for the Sri Lankan capital, which has been buckling under the pressures of property development. Land values in waterfront and canal-side areas of Colombo are set to appreciate by 61 to 62 percent in 2030.
Authorities hope to introduce Colombo Commercial City as the most sought-after “waterfront business environment experience” in the world. “These plans have adopted a novel approach which I would call ‘pro-development’, deviating from the conventional regulatory based approach,” explained Munasinghe.
“They provide a flexible framework for the developers to select among many choices available for them to design their development, optimising the resources and the opportunities, and incentivising ‘green’ developments.”
The plans also detail directives for the expansion of critical and essential transport infrastructure, partly via road widening projects and the establishment of water supply and drainage facilities for the island’s waterlogged cities. Chief among these initiatives are expressways that will connect Colombo to Dambulla by way of Kurunegala and Hambantota by way of Matara by 2025. Electrified railways will also link Colombo to Dambulla by 2030, and, soon, Trincomalee.
The plans’ renewed attention on Sri Lanka’s underserved areas parallel the introduction of provincial categories to the upcoming PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards (Sri Lanka). This year will see Asia’s most trusted real estate awards series laurel the best condominiums, houses and villas in southern Sri Lanka, namely those in Galle, Matara, and Hambantota; the island’s central highlands, i.e. those in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Matale; and the country’s northeast, i.e. those in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, and Vavuniya.
Last month, Munasinghe won the title of 2019 Sri Lanka Real Estate Personality of the Year in a nod to his ongoing efforts at modernising the Sri Lankan property market through his leadership at UDA and NPPD.
“I would say that the results of all what we have been doing are already visible, yet it will take another few years to fully realise and to be experienced to the best. But, my friends, I can assure you that the real estate development sector in Sri Lanka will flourish even though we experience a few setbacks at times,” he said in his speech.
Do you know of any real estate project in Sri Lanka that deserves to be recognised this year? Nominate it to the PropertyGuru Asia Property Awards (Sri Lanka) by 23 August. Find more details here: https://www.asiapropertyawards.com/award/sri-lanka-property-awards/
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