Talking of Panchika watte, one conjures up images of a populous area overflowing with shops, particularly of motor spares, and squalid slum and shanty dwellings, snarled up by an ever present traffic congestion which adds to the noise, dust and pollution of the environment. Imagine Panchikawatte with sleek high rise shopping and office complexes, modern apartment blocks equipped with necessary facilities, an attractive cultural centre and an environment with plenty of open spaces and greenery.
It would seem like a dream. However, according to Architect Surath Wickremasinghe, an effective partnership between the private and public sectors could make this dream a reality.
The City of Colombo today is badly in need of a comprehensive urban renewal strategy. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) has identified ten renewal areas with twenty projects for development. One of these, the Echelon Square project has been completed. The Panchikawatte Triangle is another of the project areas identified by the UDA.
"The Panchikawatte Triangle is a prime site for renewal since it is strategically located," said Surath Wickremasinghe, Chairman, Surath Wickremasinghe Associates (SWA).
"It comprises 14 hectares, bounded by three main roads, Panchikawatte Road, Maradana Road and Sri Sangarajah Mawatha, in the North East of the City. It is under two kilometres from the city's business and financial centres of Pettah, and the Fort, as well as from the Colombo Port. At one end of the triangle is the Maradana Rail Terminal and at another end the premier Rail Terminal of Fort. Daily, about 100,000 commuters are brought to the city from the suburbs and elsewhere. The Supreme Court Complex is also within close proximity".
Panchikawatte is well known as the centre of the booming motor spares trade. Mr. Wickremasinghe pointed out that lining the main roads, is a belt of comparatively new buildings predominantly occupied by motor spares concerns.
The historic Tower Hall Theatre and the Elphinstone Theatre are also located within the triangle. The inner core of the triangle however, is congested and poorly developed. About 10,000 residents live mostly in overcrowded slum and shanty dwellings with very poor sanitation. There is no room for expansion or more accommodation. Narrow streets, inadequate solid waste disposal, uncollected garbage and clogged surface drains have posed environmental problems further aggravated by the lack of open spaces and green areas. The traffic congestion on the three main roads make movement difficult. "Although Panchikawatte is strategically located, the land is underutilised and deprived of access to modernity," Mr. Wickremasinghe said.
According to him, the solution is to relocate the residents of the slums and shanties in multi storey apartments built for them. Then the land which is vacated can be developed to its full potential. This is the new method of urban renewal that has been practised in countries such as Singapore. However, in a country like Sri Lanka where funds available for development are limited, private sector participation is necessary to make the project a success.
"The Panchikawatte Triangle Redevelopment Project is unique in that it is the first private-public partnership project in comprehensive Urban Renewal in Sri Lanka, Mr. Wickremasinghe said. He explained that the partnership is between the promoters Surath Wickremasinghe Associates and the state represented by the UDA. The aim of the partnership is to achieve the social, economic, physical and environmental redevelopment of the Panchikawatte Triangle using the combined strengths of both partners. The role of the UDA is to define the aims of the project, provide the land required so that the new development can go ahead as planned, and relocate the families within the development area. SWA will mobilise professional expertise, syndicate financial commitments in the capital markets, organise management of the project and ensure its completion within the targeted time.
Mr. Wickremasinghe estimated the cost of the project currently at Sri Lanka Rupees Eight Billion or US $ 150 million. The shareholdings of the Enabling Company are envisaged to be held by Surath Wickremasinghe Associates, the UDA and the National Development Bank of Sri Lanka. Other sources are also being invited to participate in the equity structure.
The initial Technical Proposal and pre-feasibility study formulated by Surath Wickremasinghe Associates has been accepted by the Government. SWA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UDA to undertake a Feasibility Study.
Explaining the proposed development plan, Mr. Wickremasinghe said that it was scheduled to be completed in three phases. There were 1,580 housing units occupied by around 2,040 families within the Panchikawatte Triangle. To relocate these residents, 2,000 high rise housing units would be constructed in stages on vacant land near Abeysingharamaya Temple on the opposite side of Panchikawatte Road and next to Pradeepa Mawatha, both in close proximity to the triangle. These housing units would be provided with the necessary facilities such as water supply, drainage and electricity. They would also be larger and placed in a much better living environment than the slums and shanties within the triangle.
When the first blocks of apartments are ready, the families occupying the lands earmarked for the first high rise complex would be initially relocated. The vacated site will then be developed into a shopping complex with apartments on the higher floors.
The sale of these apartments is expected to raise funds for the relocation of housing units. Thus the residents living in slums and shanties within the development area would be relocated in stages to make way for more development.
If this project gets under way as planned, the redeveloped Panchikawatte will comprise a mega shopping and office complexes, a cultural centre, two shopping cum apartment complex with middle class housing units for sale, and the relocation housing units across the road.
A total area of two million square feet of space will be available for shops, offices and housing. The construction of high rise complexes also leaves much open public areas and greenery. Parking space for 2,000 cars will be provided, thus easing the congestion on the three main roads which will allow the free flow of traffic.
Mr. Wickremasinghe emphasised that the existing buildings of the motor spares traders will not be touched in the process of development.
These traders will be free to carry on their business. They would also have the opportunity to move into the new shopping complex which would be well equipped with all conveniences as well as telecommunication and parking facilities. The mega shopping centre is expected to be a one stop shopping centre for the Motor Spares Trade as well as Electronics. It is also planned to locate seven Cinemas in this complex
"Some of the residents have a fear that they will be ejected from their houses and relocated far away," Mr. Wickremasinghe said. However, he said that will not happen. The relocation housing units are being constructed just across from Panchikawatte Road, within half a mile from where they now live. So they will not be faced with any problems regarding schooling or travelling to their workplaces. The housing units will be built with lifts and other conveniences. The quality of the lives of these residents will be uplifted. Furthermore, they have also planned for connecting bridges at different levels. These will be like streets and have shops and food stalls, tailors shops and so on so that the residents will not feel a drastic change from the lifestyle they are used to.
"Forty two percent of the population of Colombo live in slums and shanties," Wickremasinghe said. "This is the answer for the future in the development of cities. When high rises are built, more space is created. There will be extra housing units to accommodate the many families who are sharing with others. The World Bank is willing to consider funding the relocation of 2,000 householders from the Panchikawatte Triangle under the 'Clean Cities' programme. If this can work out, the problem of slums and shanties in the city could be solved without the government having to put in money.
It is therefore a pioneering project. It needs however strong commitment and an effective partnership between the government and the private sector in order to make it work. It would create an environment to suit the 21st Century."
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