A storm of controversy has developed around the unauthorised demolition of an old and much-admired building in Ambalangoda that dates back to Dutch times. The Ambalangoda Resthouse was looked upon by residents and visitors as a showpiece building of historic value, and a landmark on the southwest coast.
According to representatives of the Ambalangoda Urban Council (UC), the Ambalangoda Resthouse and premises are the legal property of the Ambalangoda Urban Council.
A resident of the area said the resthouse was in need of repair, not demolition.
The Ambalangoda Resthouse is a centuries-old landmark that stood out because of its unique location on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. The spot is a popular weekend destination for residents and visitors because the sea in front, with its protective rocks, is considered safe for bathing.
Recently, residents of Ambalangoda town were shocked and dismayed to see a bulldozer knocking down structures on the resthouse premises, Some of the structures were built out of hard limestone. The demolition team was observed removing from the “condemned” structures valuable, antique-value timber, including doors, door frames, windows and window frames, which they removed along with truckloads of valuable limestone.
Residents are asking whether the next heritage building to go is the Dutch-period courthouse, in the neighbourhood. The building has been declared a heritage site by the Archaeological Department.
According to Ambalangoda Urban Council opposition leader J. W. Jayantha, the two-acre Ambalangoda Resthouse property belongs to the Ambalangoda UC, and no person can carry out any structural changes to the property without UC permission. At a recent meeting of the Ambalangoda UC, it was revealed that none of the council members, including representatives of the ruling party and the opposition UNP, were aware of the dismantling and demolition of the heritage property. It has since been ascertained, according to a UC source, that a person acting with the support of the Southern Provincial Council, is responsible for the illegal demolition work.
In 1982, during the period of former President R. Premadasa, management of the Ambalangoda Resthouse was formally handed over to the Urban Development Authority (UDA), and 90 percent of the income earned by the resthouse was to go to the Urban Council.
The UDA leased out the property to a hotelier based in Weligama for a monthly rent of Rs. 70,000. The hotelier consequently defaulted on payment of the rent. It is understood that the hotelier owes the UDA several million rupees in unpaid rent.
As a result, the Ambalangoda Urban Council has been denied its 90 percent share of the resthouse profits, and has thereby lost millions in revenue over the years.
According to the Ambalangoda UC’s Mr. Jayantha, corruption and mismanagement have haunted the resthouse ever since its management was handed over to the UDA.
It was also revealed, in the course of UC meetings, that a UDA officer who had been assigned to discuss the outstanding arrears in rent had subsequently become an “intimate friend” of the hotelier who had taken the resthouse on lease. The exact amount in arrears has never been brought to the notice of the UDA. The hotelier has since died, it is understood.
UC chairman Aruna Pradeep has appealed to the Minister of Local Government to give the UC responsibility for the resthouse premises, saying it has great potential for development and could generate much-needed income for the UC.
According to the UC’s Mr. Jayantha, it emerged, during a discussion between Southern Province Chief Minister Shan Wijelal de Silva and the Minister of Urban Development, Dinesh Gunawardena, that only the management of the Ambalangoda Resthouse had been handed over to the Southern Provincial Council. A letter to this effect was sent to the Ambalangoda UC.
Shortly after the unauthorised demolition of all structures on the Ambalangoda Resthouse premises, the UC received a letter from a person claiming he had obtained permission before pulling down the structures.
At a recent Ambalangoda UC meeting, the matter was discussed extensively. Members said the resthouse, the UC’s most valuable asset, had been exploited, and that corrupt individuals were abusing political influence.