The Sunday Leader

Western Region Megapolis Project: Pipe Dream Or Smart Reality?

by Santhush Fernando

Blue-print of the ambitious Western Region Megapolis Project scheduled to be presented this week envisages the greatest development programme Sri Lanka would see in its two and half millennia of recorded history.

Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka earlier told the Business Leader that the legal framework for the magnanimous project – the proposed Megapolis Development Authority Bill – would be formulated after having interactive consultation between the general public, professionals, public and private sectors.

According to sources, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) will come under the proposed Megapolis Development Authority, and the Ranil Wickremesinghe Administration is hopeful of presenting the Megapolis Development Authority Bill to Parliament effecting the changes within the coming months.

According to the overview of the Western Region Megapolis Project Master Plan to be unveiled soon, the Western Megapolis is envisioned and conceptualized as Sri Lanka’s Grand Strategy to propel the country’s drive to achieve the status of a ‘high income developed nation’ by 2030.

The Western Megapolis is envisioned and conceptualized as the prudent Grand Strategy for achieving two decisive inter-dependent transformations required in Sri Lanka’s forward march to achieve the status of ‘A High Income Developed Country’, namely the spatial transformation of urban agglomerations in the Western Region of the country and the structural transformation of the national economy as a whole, while comprehensively addressing the burning issues brought about by ‘messy urbanization’.

Thus, the Western Megapolis has three broad national goals:

(i)    To address the issues resulting from the congestion pressures being exerted on the urban physical infrastructure, urban services amenities, and the environment, due to messy urbanization of the 21st century.

(ii)   To create the enabling environment for propelling the nation to the status of a high income developed country tunneling through the middle income trap, by way of leveraging the economies of agglomeration, through development and transformation of the physical and institutional infrastructure and the national economic structure.

(iii) To optimally harness the benefits of knowledge-based innovation-driven global economic environment characterized by such developments as the new industrial revolution and emergence of smart cities.


Guiding philosophy: The four pillars

The overall development philosophy guiding conceptualization, planning, and implementation of all specific objectives, strategies, projects and programmes in pursuance of the above is based on the Four Fundamental Pillars: Economic Growth and Prosperity, Social Equity and Harmony, Environmental Sustainability, and Individual happiness.


Ten key objectives

The 10 key specific objectives envisaged to be nationally-achieved through the Western Megapolis are as follows:

1)    To achieve a Per Capita GDP level of a ‘High Income Developed Country’ by year 2030.

2)    To enable structural transformation of the economy:

–      Manufacturing and the Tradable high-tech services with export potential constitute the major proportion of the GDP,

–      Exports exceed 30 per cent of GDP, and – Production Efficiency of the national economy is improved to a level where Incremental Capital Output Ratio (ICOR) reaches 3.5 or lower by year 2030.

3)    To establish and institutionalize the digital infrastructure necessary for a well interconnected, well instrumented and intelligent smart city enabling transformation of the national economy into a predominantly knowledge-based innovation-driven economy,

–      achieving a country ranking of 40 or better in both Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) and Global Innovation Index by 2030 (from current rankings of around 100)

4)    To achieve self-sufficiency in Energy, Food and Pharmaceuticals by 2030, and to strive to achieve 100 per cent Green Energy beyond 2030.

5)    To achieve ‘Housing for All’ by 2030 with Water, Sanitation, Electricity, Waste Management and other urban services and amenities

6)    To Reduce Poverty and Unemployment rates of the Country to less than 1 per cent by 2030,

-       promoting equality in distribution of national income eliminating regional and social disparities

7)    To provide adequate opportunities for primary, secondary, tertiary vocational and university education in line with the needs of economic transformation

8)    To make the Megapolis one of the top 10 most livable cities in Asia,

–      attracting entrepreneurs and professionals,

–      reversing the brain-drain, and

–      retaining potential migrants within the country,

–      building upon the pre-existing conditions of absolute peace and guaranteed security.

9)    To ensure Environmental Sustainability and Disaster Resilience,

–      Preserving natural eco-systems,

–      Preventing pollution of air, water and soil beyond permissible safety limits, and

–      Making the Megapolis Resilient to Climate Change and Natural Disasters

10) To enable a high degree of individual happiness among citizens,

–      strengthening unity and harmony among different ethnic and religious groups preserving all conducive forms of diversity, and

–      creating an environment conducive for spiritual development


Planning area division and regional structure plan

The planning area division plan and the structure plan form the basis and framework for further detailed planning for the entire Western Region that will guide the physical development of Western Region over the next 20 – 30 years. Planning area division is prepared, based on the strength, weaknesses and a specific role of the area in the context of the region. The planning area division thus prepares the different parts of the region to be planned according to its role and characteristics.

The structure plan is a step further to assign broad land uses and density based on the existing land use, the role of different planning areas and the employment and population distribution.

According to the characteristic and role of different areas in Western region, 13 planning areas have been proposed:

1.     Northern Coastal District: It consists of Muthurajawela conservation zone and the tourism zone along the northern coastal belt.

2.     Airport City: It consists of airport zone which include aviation related business cluster and the complementing residential development with supporting facilities.

3.     Logistic City: It consists of the logistic zone for warehousing and transshipment facilities with the supporting residential areas in the surrounding.

4.     Mirigama Industrial City: It consists of new industrial estate for electronic and related cluster, SME cluster and the surrounding new residential development.

5.     Gampaha: It has been traditionally a residential area with good public facilities and environment. Variety of housing types and good facilities make this place a good residential area close to many employment centres such as industries, airport, logistic, and port.

6.     Plantation City: It consists of the plantation areas around Avissawella with pockets of residential development. Plantation related businesses shall be the economic driver of this area.

7.     Colombo Core: Colombo Core is the business centre, international gateway and the heart of the region with a very high density development and good quality environment and infrastructure.

8.     Colombo Fringe: Colombo fringe is expected to be the medium density residential and mix commercial development areas receiving spillover demand from the Colombo core.

9.     Science and Technology City: It consists of IT parks, Science Park and Medical Technology Park with the supporting residential areas and related facilities. It has to be planned to attract talents to work and live in this areas.

10. Horana Industrial City: It consists of 3 new industrial parks for the relocation of existing industries, and new residential areas and its supporting facilities.

11.  Forest City: Forest city is aimed at creating certain types of residential and tourism enclave among the well protected agriculture and forested area.

12. Southern Coastal District: It will have tourism belt along the coast and will also function as good residential areas well connected by rail to Colombo.

13. Marine Zone: It is the sea area along the Western Region where sands, minerals and corals are located. This area needs a special plan to protect the environment which helps strategically utilize the resources.


Existing development plan

At present, only declared area within Western Region will have Development Plan (DP) with planning regulation to guide physical development in those areas. Majority of areas within Western Region do not have DP as it is still considered as rural areas. However, looking at the sprawling development in the Gampaha and Colombo Districts and the mixing of industrial and residential development in many areas for the long term, it is proposed to prepare DP for the entire Western Region to avoid further sprawl and to reduce pollution due to the poor development control measures.

At present, the responsibility to prepare the DP rests with the Urban Development Authority (UDA), and it will be gazetted and approved by Minister for Urban Development. In view of the setting up of the Western Region Development Authority (WRDA) that will be in charge of planning, promotion and development in Western Region, the responsibility of preparing the DP will be placed under the WRDA.

Development Plans were prepared for the areas around Colombo which were issued/amended in 2008 and also for Negombo and some other development pockets within the Western Region.

The DP’s in Western Region are reasonably detailed, although they have been prepared to allow for flexibility and mixed development, which was good on one hand, in creating vibrancy and encouraging investment but on the other hand, it may create issues in the long term. For example, the DP, in reference to “Form C” on FAR and building height computation, allows land parcels of more than 4000 m2 to have unlimited FAR, this could lead to sporadic high rise developments that will load onto the infrastructure capacity in certain areas.

Apart from the “flexible” and broad zoning plan and regulation, the zoning classification for different DPs are formulated separately, and they are not standardized in term of zoning classification, colour coding and development control parameters. This standardization is very important to simplify the development control framework in Western Region which in turn will help the building industries in the long term.


Proposed development control framework for Colombo Core

Colombo Core development is guided by the existing Development Plan. However, considering the flexibility given in the DP, Colombo Core has slowly turned into a mix development area, which is vibrant but also very organic and not very coordinated in nature. Good developments/attractions are developed by individual developers at different locations without any integration with the surrounding parcels and without supporting pedestrian linkages.

To improve the urban environment and ensure coordinated development, it is proposed that ‘Urban Design Control’ is prepared for key areas within Colombo Core such as:

•      Colombo Downtown (including Pettah, Galle Face, Fort, Beira lake and part of the new Port City).

•      Ratmalana Redevelopment Area.

•      Some Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the waterfront.

This urban design control will function as an overlay to the existing Development Plan. It will coordinate development and create character (place making) which will eventually create “Destinations” for both local and tourist alike.


Way forward

The master plan provides the medium and long term development directions for the Western Region. To ensure that the planned development takes place, it is necessary to prepare the following:

•      Master Plan Implementation Framework

•      Land Consolidation Plan

•      Project packaging


Master Plan implementation framework

Master Plan implementation framework identifies projects to be implemented in the medium term including:

Capital improvement projects, mainly infrastructure and transportation projects, catalyst projects mainly to attract investment and catalyst further developments.

In case of the Western Region, the key catalyst projects have been identified, while the capital improvement projects have also listed down in transport/infrastructure chapters need to be defined more specifically. The project identification should include clearly defined project objectives, size and scope, pre-feasibility study as well as the estimated cost and the proposed funding models. Master plan implementation framework also looks at reviewing the institutional set-up to manage the proposed project including the operation and management of the projects.

Finally, the Master Plan Implementation Framework has to look at improving the master plan regulatory framework in its implementation to ensure that it will be clear, streamlined and transparent.


Land consolidation

State land and undeveloped land have been mapped in Western Region and identified as possible land for the key projects proposed. Considering that the process of State land alienation for development will have to go through some legal processes, while acquiring private land for development will need sizable capital and time, it is therefore critical to prepare land consolidation plan, so that priority could be set for the priority projects, such that they can be launched according to the implementation schedule.


Project packaging

Most of the catalyst projects identified are proposed based on the assumptions that there is demand and that the land is available for development, although pre-feasibility study has not been done and some of the land for the projects are not yet acquired.

As such, it is critical to carry out pre-feasibility study and determine the exact scope of the project, the size in relation to land availability and the technical requirements that will form the conditions for the investor to abide in the development, so as to achieve an optimum outcome of the project. The project packaging will allow the projects to be offered to local and international investors through direct negotiation or through international tender. (For more details on Economic Development read The Business Leader).


Colombo Megapolis Development Authority Bill

The government envisions formulating a specific master plan for Colombo Megapolis, Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka earlier told The Business Leader. (See

“We are hopeful of enacting the Megapolis Development Authority Act after having interactive consultation between the general public, professionals, public and private sectors. Functions and subjects intended under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project would be now absorbed into his new ministry.”

In June 2012 the then Rajapaksa regime at the behest of Former Secretary to Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Gotabhaya Rajapaksa kicked off a US$ 223 million World Bank-funded Metro Colombo Urban Development Project aimed at solving Colombo’s longstanding infrastructure constraints.

“Although Colombo Municipal Council along with other local government bodies within the development zone would not be abolished, some of their functions like infrastructure development, would be taken over by the Megapolis Development Authority, whilst the remaining would be continued by them. For instance Mono Rail would be implemented under the supervision of the Authority. So we would identify implementing entities for each functions.”

Colombo Port City

“Colombo Port City too would be part and parcel of Megapolis Development Master Plan. We would not be implementing it but the relevant company i.e. – Colombo Port City.”

“The comprehensive Megapolis Development project will go until 2030. Currently, the area under the masterplan envelops a population of eight million which is projected to grow to nearly 15 million by 2030.”

“Although this wouldn’t be a replica of a Singapore or any other smartcity, we would study the plus points of Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila etc. We will evolve our own model and this would be a unique smartcity,” the Minister added.



Wickremesinghe’s brainchild

In fact the initial conceptual plan was mooted for the first time in 1991 by none other than the then young Minister of Industries, Science and Technology, Ranil Wickremesinghe. He made a presentation in the presence of the then Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. According to media reports, the objective of the presentation was to seek Japanese government’s assistance to implement this mega project. In spite of this initiative, further development of the concept came to a halt with the change of the government in 1994.

Once again, during the 2001-2002 period Wickremesinghe tried to revive the same urban development concept, at least on a phased basis, giving priority to reclamation of the sea near Galle Face (now envisaged under the Colombo Port City Project) and areas adjacent to Colombo 3 to develop an extended city within Colombo under the then ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ Programme. The new government is now ready to embark upon its flagship project as the Western Region Megapolis Project (WRMP) which will help transform the entire Western Province, enveloping the Colombo, Gampaha, and Kalutara Districts and positioning Colombo as the best city in the South Asian region.

1 Comment for “Western Region Megapolis Project: Pipe Dream Or Smart Reality?”

  1. Psycho

    What about a badagini police?

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