A worthy proposition | Daily News


A worthy proposition

Sri Lanka is probably the only country where a wholesale market occupies prime real estate right in the heart of its main commercial city. We are of course referring to the Manning Market in the Pettah, a commodity wholesale and retail market that is a real eye sore, with rotting produce strewn everywhere.

Leading city planners have pointed out for decades that this should be removed from the city and relocated elsewhere. This being prime real estate with an astronomical value, it makes no sense to have such a facility instead of using it for a far more productive purpose such as a mixed-use development. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has turned his attention towards this vexed problem and in consultation with Prime Minister and Urban Development Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, decided to relocate the Manning Market to Peliyagoda, just a few kilometres away. Moreover, Peliyagoda will have easier access when the new Kelani bridge expansion and access road project is completed soon.

Afterwards, the two-acre land in the heart of Colombo where the Manning Market is now located will be used effectively for development projects, State Minister of Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness Dr. Nalaka Godahewa said. “Plans have already been drafted with regard to such projects,” he said after making an observation visit to the Manning Market in Pettah.

The new Manning Market in Peliyagoda will be opened for business activities before November 17 this year, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa completes his first year in office. In the meantime, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Minister of Urban Development and Housing has instructed the Urban Development Authority to implement the development plan in the Pettah Market Complex providing solutions for the prevailing daily traffic congestion in the City of Colombo.

Preliminary plans to relocate the Pettah Manning Market to Peliyagoda on a 15-acre land were drafted before 2015 under the guidance of then Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The constructions first began in 2016 according to the said plans. After completing the construction, the new market will comprise 1,142 stalls, a large car park, cafeterias, medical centres for vendors and employees, banks and other facilities. Likewise, we recall that the St. John’s fish market was also relocated to Peliyagoda to minimize the traffic, noise and effluent pollution there. It was later converted to a gold sales and appraisal centre.

One recalls the huge outcry raised by certain sections when plans were first revealed for the Tri Forces headquarters’ to be shifted to the suburb of Pelawatte. However, there were a couple of main reasons behind this move. One was traffic management and the other was security – not only of the three establishments but also of the city of Colombo as a whole. Although the conflict in the North and the East was over by the time the relocation plans were realised, one shudders to think what would happened in the Easter attacks, where some of the affected hotels were perilously close to premises formerly occupied by the Tri Forces. In hindsight, the relocation was a sound move.

But more needs to be done. There has been talk of removing the Magazine prison also from its present high-value location and using that space for mixed-use development. However, no progress has been made so far in this direction, although the authorities moved swiftly in the case of the Bogambara Prison in Kandy. Moreover, relocating the prison to a more remote location will also lessen the opportunities for smuggling in drugs and communications devices for the prisoners, which has become a major problem.

However, the real estate liberated from unproductive ventures should not always be used for building high rises or shopping malls. Colombo was once known as the Garden City of Asia and we need to revive that moniker. In this context, at least some of the newly available spaces can be used to create recreation parks, children’s parks and “Green Lungs” modelled on the Vihara Maha Devi Park in Colombo 7. We are certain that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who initiated most of the City beautification projects during his earlier tenure as Urban Development Secretary, would look favourably at this suggestion.

One of the main lessons that we learned from the Coronavirus pandemic is that the location does not really matter, as long as work gets done. Practically the whole world had to go online during the months-long lockdown and suddenly, it did not matter whether you were in Colombo or Girandurukotte. This is one legacy that will be left over from the pandemic, long after a vaccine becomes available and the world forgets COVID-19. Telecommuting will become more commonplace and the physical location will lose its importance. Thus it is critical that we use valuable real estate for projects that are really important for the digital economy and capable of generating additional revenue.

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