The Sri Lankan Government is to capitalize on the natural advantages of the historic Colombo city. The unique blend of cultures and the shared heritage of the various communities of this country must be highlighted in its urban growth, according to Defence ad Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
He was delivering the keynote address at Tuesday’s launch of the South Asia Region Urbanisation Knowledge platform, a high-level policy workshop with the participation of urban development experts and decision makers from eight countries in the region at Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo.
The event was organised by the World Bank and the Institute of Policy Studies in Sri Lanka. Representatives from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka attended the workshop.
Mr. Rajapaksa said that there are many colonial buildings all around Colombo and the other cities of Sri Lanka along with ancient temples, kovils, mosques and churches. There are public places with historic and great symbolic value, such as the Viharamahadevi Park, or the old Victoria Park, and Independence Square. In developing the city spaces, it is important to highlight this heritage, he said. Several Colombo building renovation projects are now being implemented following these principles, he disclosed.
The recent renovation and reopening of the long neglected, ancient Dutch Hospital Colombo has been a success. While retaining the spirit of the original architecture, a lot of value addition has been gained through the transformation of the old hospital to a public open space housing high-end shopping and restaurant facilities, Mr. Rajapaksa said. The demand from the private sector for similar spaces is very high. Under this set up, the old Colombo Racecourse, whose buildings were originally scheduled for demolition, are presently undergoing a similar renovation.
The pavilions will be conserved and converted to suit new activities, with the area with road frontage being converted to an up-market shopping complex. The ground itself will be converted into an international standard rugby ground. A third project of a similar nature is the conversion of the old St. John’s Fish Market, which was relocated to Peliyagoda, to a Bullion Exchange. Many more old buildings with a lot of architectural features around the Fort area have been renovated and re-utilised for commercial purposes, he disclosed.
To further rationalise space utilisation in the city, the relocation of wholesale markets and other economic infrastructure to custom designed locations outside the city limits is taking place, Mr. Rajapaksa said.
The Manning market, which is the wholesale market for vegetables, is also to be shifted to Peliyagoda, where the St John’s Fish Market is also located. Peliyagoda is poised to be a central location for the entire western province with the construction of an Outer Circular Road. By using this road, heavy vehicles that transport goods from these wholesale markets to retailers will be able to avoid entering the city limits unless so required.
By creating rail links between the Colombo port and a container terminal and dry port being set up at Peliyagoda, it will also become possible to drastically reduce container traffic entering Colombo, he said.