Right investment in land | Daily News
Urban Development Authority completes 40 years:

Right investment in land

The Urban Development Authority was established 40 years ago to manage urban growth in Sri Lanka. It was born with the certification of the Urban Development Authority Law No.41 of 1978 on September 6, 1978. This new Law which provided for an innovative new agency to promote integrated planning and the implementation of economic, social and physical development of urban areas in Sri Lanka was a landmark legislation. This Law, for the first time focused on the integrated development of urban areas rather than on mere physical planning hitherto practiced by the Town & Country Planning Department.

The new Government, which came into power in 1977, launched an unprecedented development effort removing controls that pervaded public life till then and focused on the creation of a liberalized economy and the promotion of private sector participation. This development and modernization initiative had a heavy focus on three priority subject areas:

a) The Mahaweli Development Programme

b) The Free Trade Zone

c) The Housing & Urban Development Programme

Ranasinghe Premadasa, who took over as the Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction of the new Government was entrusted with the planning and implementation of the key Housing & Urban Development Programme, addressed the task entrusted to him under the new economic initiative, with vision, fortitude and vigour. The new Minister, who was also the Prime Minister of the country, was convinced that the new Government’s vision of development and modernization cannot be carried forward without establishing a new legislative and institutional framework for both housing and for urban development. He was the first to take cognition of the possible impacts of urbanization in the country and gave priority to the management of urban growth. He had prepared himself whilst still in the opposition to launch a novel and an innovative human settlements development effort to meet the impending challenges.

The task of preparing the new legislation and the establishment of a new institutional and legislative framework became the responsibility of a core-team led by the Secretary to the Ministry, R Paskaralingam. The other key members were K H J Wieyadasa, Additional Secretary Dustan Jayawardane, National Housing Commissioner Neville Gunarathna, Colombo Master Plan Project Director and Author T Row, Colombo Master Plan Project UN Expert Dissa Weerapana and I, who formed the Planning Division in the Ministry, were the junior members of this team and were tasked with providing support and co-ordination services. This team, built upon the preliminary work already initiated by Neville Gunarathna and Auther Row in the Colombo Master Plan Project in formulating the UDA Law, as well as in planning a radical development in the City of Colombo.

Town planners

With the promulgation of the UDA Law, a new Chairman and a Board of Management had to be appointed and the office of the new Authority had to be established. Ministry Secretary R. Paskaralingam was appointed as the Chairman of the Authority, reflecting the high importance attached to the new institution by the Prime Minister. Neville Gunarathne one of the greatest town planners ever in Sri Lanka, and who had conceived the Colombo Master Plan, was expected to take up the vital post of General Manager of the new Authority. But the unassuming professional he was, Neville declined to assume managerial responsibilities, but preferred concentrate of his professional work and to lead the physical planning team. I, then Director of Planning in the Ministry was unexpectedly harnessed by Secretary Pasakaralingam to take over as the General Manager of the new institution. I was tasked with initial tasks if formulating the organisational structure of the institution, obtaining nominations of Board Members, convening the first Board meeting and establishing the office of the Authority as well as initiating the vesting of identified state lands with the UDA. The General Manager, in terms of the Law, becomes a member of the Board as well as its Secretary. (The designation of General Manager has subsequently been changed to “Director-General”)

My most immediate task was the establishment of the office of the Authority. It was established at the office of the Colombo Master Plan Project at No.47, D.R. Wjewardana Mawatha, Colombo 10, and subsequent arrangements were made to shift the Town and Country Planning Department, which was in occupation of a part of the same premises.

The Board of Management with R. Paskaralingam as the Chairman was indeed a high profile one. The new Board had Additional Secretary to Ministry of Local Government Housing and Construction K H J Wjeyadasa who later rose to top post in the public service of the Secretary to the President, Lands Ministry Secretary Nanda Abeywickrama, Industries Ministry Additional Secretary S C Manikkavasagar, Treasury Deputy Secretary K Shanmugalingam, Ceylon Transport Board General Manager Wimal Premaratne, Town and Country Planning Director Newton Wijesinghe, National Housing Development Authority Chairman Dustan Jayawardana (who later became the Chairman of the UDA itself and Air Lanka subsequently), Archeology Commissioner Roland de Silva, Educational Buildings Director K C Samaraweera and myself the General Manager. The first meeting of the new Board of Management of the UDA was held on October 26, 1978; a simple working meeting without any fanfare or publicity, at the new offices of the Authority.

The most onerous task with the launching the UDA was the determination of its organisational structure and placing suitable and experienced personnel to man the vital positions within the structure. The Colombo Master Plan Projector and even the Development of Town and City Planning had been manned mainly by Town Planners whose expertise was mostly in the conceptualizing and preparing physical development plans. They formed the core of the planning team in the Authority, working directly under Neville Gunaratne, who carried the designation of Additional General Manager.

Those first posts of Directors in the physical planning Division came to be filled by Edmund Dharma Siriwardane, Tissa Balankulama and N D Dickson; all experienced Town Planners from the Master Plan Project. But there were other vital positions to be filled and suitable persons, with the correct attitude and the capability to keep in step with the Prime Minister’s relentless drive and energy, had to be identified and induced to come over to the new institution. Bandu Abeysundara of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and a former Director of Laksala was appointed as the Director of Administration of the new institution while P Sivasubranminum, an experienced accountant from the Treasury took over as the Director of Finance. P. Wadugedara, a senior Superintendent of Surveys was made the Director in charge of Lands and Property, while S M Banduseela formed the Colombo Master Plan Project took-over as the Director of Information Systems.

Development projects

When the UDA was subsequently entrusted with the development of the Capital City of Sri Jayewardenepura and the construction of the new Parliament, Micheal Joachim, an experienced and innovative engineer from the Housing Department, was persuaded to take over as the Director of Engineering Services, while Lalith Muthukumarana was hand-picked by Neville Gunerathna, as the Sri Jayewardenepura Project Architect. A new division was established to cover special development projects of commercial importance with Elmo de Silva, an experienced private-sector Architect, as the Director, while a Slum and Shanty Division to address upgrading and improvement needs of urban low-income settlements especially in the City of Colombo was created within the planning division with Easwaran Selvarajah as its Assistant Director. When the Government decided to hand over the management of all Local Authority Rest Houses to the UDA, a Rest House Management Division was formed with K. M. Punchi Nilame as the Director and Kusumsiri Amarasinghe as the Deputy Director. They together with the Chairman and the General Manager formed the core management team of the UDA during those early days.

The first mega urban development project to be undertaken for implementation by the UDA was the Echelon Square Project in Colombo. The preliminary designs for the project had been already prepared under the Master Plan by George Kostritsky, a reputed Architect from the USA, who had designed the redevelopment of the derelict Harbour front of Baltimore City. The UDA under the directions of Neville Gunarathna finalized these plans and launched its implementation, with the lease of the identified development sites. The first land lot ever leased by the UDA was to be from the Echelon Square to the Bank of Ceylon, for its Head Quarters.

When the Government decided to establish a new Administrative Capital in Sri Jayewardenepura and to build the Parliament in the new Capital City, the task of implementing this decision was entrusted to the Urban Development Authority. This was an enormous responsibility which required close coordination and monitoring with a whole host of high profile actors, and several state agencies. I recollect the first inspection made of the proposed development area by a small team led by Secretary Paskaralingam, which included Neville Gunarathna, Author Row, Dakshitha Thalgadapitiya, the Chairman of the Reclamation Board and me. We drew-up at the then culvert on the road to Battaramulla (replaced by the present blue coloured bridge) and could not proceed beyond through the marsh. The Reclamation Board later constructed a temporary bridge from the Pita Kotte end of the marsh to approach the “Duwa” island which has been selected as the venue for the Parliament Building. The team led by Neville Gunarathna prepared the physical plan for the development of the Capital City, while the designing of the Parliament building itself was entrusted to Geoffrey Bawa, the world renowned Sri Lankan Architect. The Mitsui Company of Japan was awarded the contract for the construction of the Parliament Building with the UDA as the client agency. I recollect the weekly monitoring and trouble-shooting meetings chaired by Secretary Paskaralingam which was held at the then Ministry of Local Government, Housing & Construction at “Transworkers House” in Fort, where he had to deal with the varying demands of the several highly motivated actors in the project; the inimitable Geoffry Bawa and the meticulous Mitsui officials led by their Site Engineer Isoyama on the one hand, and a host of high level state officials on the other. Most demanding amongst them I recollect were, Daksitha Thalgodapitiya Chairman of Reclamation Board, Madugalle, General Manager of the Water Board Tudor Gunawardana, Denzil Senanayaka and RSA Peiris, from the Highways, Poolgasunderen from the Architects, M.L Victor, General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board, B. Ferdinandez, Director of Land Development and A. Shanmugaraja Director of Telecommunications. I had to keep notes of those meetings and take immediate follow-up action. Meanwhile, Wadugedara, the UDA Director of Lands had an unenviable task to identify and acquire all empty and unused lands around the Parliament site, which included surveying, and initiating acquisition procedures. The lands acquired included the present sites of office complex as well as the site of the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.

With the Government’s decision to shift public office buildings in Colombo to the new Capital City, the UDA was also entrusted with the construction of two multi-stored office complexes: the “Sethsiripaya” in Battaramulla and the “Isurupaya” in Pelawatta. A publication by the UDA “Sri Lanka’s New Capital: Sri Jayewardenepura” identifies all proposed developments to be established in the new Capital. In addition to the Parliament building, the new Hospital and administrative complexes, a Diplomatic enclave, a Sports Stadium, National Police Head Quarters, Open University, Cultural Center, and Bird Park had been identified. This plan has gone to this extent of identifying even the varieties of trees to be planted.

Among the other significant projects during the early period that the UDA managed were the construction of the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, which had to be completed before the SAF games and the Superior courts complex in Hultsdorf. Prasana Gunawardana who was then Additional General Manager and who later become Chairman of the UDA itself and subsequently an assumed the exalted position of Lord Mayor of Colombo was the Project Manage for both these nationally important developments.

The Urban Development Authority, since establishment, has given birth and nurtured several other important state institutions as well. The Institute of Construction Industry Training and Development (now CIDA) commenced as a World Bank funded project under the UDA. The National Building Research Organization (NBRO) started as a branch of the UDA. The Sugathadasa Stadium Board and Management, which managed the Sugathadasa Outdoor, Sugathadasa Indoor and R. Premadasa Cricket Stadium was first established as a Committee of the Urban Development Authority, with the Prime Minister himself as the Chairman. I acted as the Committee’s Secretary.

The role played by the Urban Development Authority, in the nation’s development during its forty year history has been quite significant. This vital role is one that, the UDA can be proud of. This institution has changed the landscape of our premier City and has had a great impact on the country and the people. It developed a new administrative capital out of an abandoned marsh. It has continuously addressed the emerging issues of urbanization in the country. I am proud to have been associated with its birth and with its infant days. I wish to salute all those key members of the early UDA team who are no longer with us today: especially Neville Gunarathna, Dunston Jayawardana, Micheal Joachim, P Sivasubraminum, P. Wadugedara, Tissa Bulankkulama and Kusumsiri Amarasinghe.

(W D Ailapperuma is a career public servant who was the first General Manager of the Urban Development Authority.) He later served as the Chairman of the National Housing Development Authority, Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority and subsequently as the Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction)



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