Previous Rajapaksa Government had a strategic beautification plan to develop the metropolis first, and then gradually extend to other major towns in the country. The ‘planner’ behind the programme was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, who was also in charge of the Urban Development Authority (UDA). Consequently many parks, lakes and jogging tracks appeared, along with changing of the skyline in Colombo to the liking of many and towards a tourist boom.
However, with the change of government in January 2016 such developments came to a temporary standstill with the Yahapalana administration coming into effect. Major Colombo Harbour project initiated by the previous government was put on hold and maintenance of parks, lakes and jogging tracks appeared to be neglected. An attempt to raise car park charges at the Dehiwala jogging track had to be shelved due to public outcry; jogging track at Wattala built at a cost of a few millions of rupees was backhoed overnight. Confused public was aghast and began to wonder “What on earth was going to happen” with the yahapalanaya and whether public expectations were about to fly through the window.
However, the new government soon unrolled their development plans allocating a special ministry under the name of Megapolis and Western Development to execute a large development plan covering the whole island including the Western Province. The aim of the project was to metamorphose the urban development into an official urban enhancement in order to beautify towns as much as to boost the living standards of the people. Much attention on traffic congestion, garbage disposal, housing facilities for shanty dwellers as well as drinking water and sanitary facilities were also among the mega project.
President Maithripala Sirisena is determined to place this country not only on the political global map but also as a developed country with mega cities by uplifting every town to an equivalent level with complete facilities within each conurbation. The idea behind is to offer the same services in district level thereby restricting people moving particularly to Colombo city limits seeking better facilities. The total estimated project cost over a period of ten years is believed to be approximately $30 billion.
In this respect, a French delegation which included a renowned French architect Bernard Lamy and French investor Maxime Laurent visited Sri Lanka recently on the invitation of Dhamith De Silva and Peter Seneviratne (Paris based) to meet the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champkia Ranawaka. Damith de Silva and Peter Seneviratne had done a lot of groundwork for weeks, in liaison with the French Embassy, to arrange the French experts’ visit to Sri Lanka.
Bernard Lamy is a renowned architect in France for Urban Town Planning and Development. He has been appointed as the architect covering all aspects of renovation and restoration of the Centre of New Industries and Technologies building in La Défense and coordinated in designing and town planning of La Défense itself, which is one of the uppermost business regions in France with representatives of Neuilly, Courbevoie, Puteaux and Nanterre and in collaboration with the General Council and Public Development and Construction Office.
Bernard Lamy was also part of the project team, as an architect, involved in the planning of Cap Cana, the Caribbean’s premium resort in the Dominican Republic, next to Punta Cana, largest marina in the region, with two dozen hotels and upper class residences at a cost of multi-billion dollars covering 30,000 acres and five miles of ocean front.
Maxime Laurent is a French investor connected with other major investors in France. Maxime Laurent and Bernard Lamy are a well-known business combination that always works in tandem along with several other sizeable financiers in France.
When the French duo met up with Sri Lankan Ministers Patali Champika, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Malik Samarawickrema as well as Ajith de Costa, Chairman attached to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development team, during their short stay in Colombo, they were privileged to be observers at the Kalutara District Development Council meeting where they (KDC) were contemplating on how best todevelop the Kalutara District with foreign investment.
It has become apparent at the meeting that Lamy’s experience and Laurent’s investor capacity could contribute a great deal towards Sri Lankan projects. On further enquiry about their background, particularly about their experience with La Défense it was revealed that this particular developed area is the major business district within the Paris Metropolitan region. La Défense is very scenic with about four million square metres of office buildings and hotels, commercial buildings and shopping malls. Since it was built in 1956, the French duo have transformed many things in this district, and today La Défense has become one of the mort important expanses in Europe.
The beautiful aspect in La Défense, in terms of conveyance, is its congestion-free illustrious transportation system incorporating a metro (underground railway network), overhead railways, buses, a tramways and highways, all designed to allow a seamless system of moving goods and people from one place to another. Additionally, inhabitants of La Défense enjoy many facilities in the form of playgrounds and schools. Thus, the area has become one of the main tourist attractions to foreigners who visit Paris, to do their shopping, after visiting the Eiffel and other main attractions. This is mainly due to the availability of many facilities such shopping centres, restaurants and other entertainment and public conveniences available here.
A few decades ago when Paris became chock-a-block there was a frantic demand to look for a suitable location where offices could be operated from outside Paris. Having identified La Défense as the ideal locale for the purpose, this area was created 50 years ago. For the past 40 years or so, La Défense has been expanding and advancing with ecological development. Thus, French architects have gained enormous experience being ‘on the job.’
Today Paris and La Défense are linked with an efficient and fast moving transportation system, thus contributing towards the benefit of the country’s economy. It also acts as a window to the city due to areas outside having improved environmentally, with everything planned properly as a residential area with modern facilities such as cleaning of streets, dumping of garbage and disposal of same etc.
Impression on Sri Lanka
The two French experts were asked to give their impression on Sri Lanka towards the end of their short tour. According to Damith de Silva, French seem to think there is agreat potential to invest in Sri Lanka. Two weeks later Bernard Lamy returned to Sri Lanka with his family and spent two more weeks visiting many interesting places as a tourist. He appears to be very keen on on eco tourism and feels Sri Lanka is the ideal location to promote such tours.
Bernard Lamy seemed highly impressed with Sri Lanka’s development and the quality of urban planning in the major part of Colombo. Sri Lankan officials were assured, at the end of their meeting, the visiting team would certainly explain in detail about the possibilities, capabilities and the potential in Sri Lanka to the prospective investor(s).
The French have also indicated their interest in leisure development in Sri Lanka stating: “When you design a small town, you need to introduce a new vision about ecological life, leisure and when leisure parks are created permanent people are required to upkeep activities associated with those, as it is the same thing with a new town, that is our concept.
“You have a new vision about the organization of the city along with a new vision on lifestyle. It is important to start as an Internet city for which you have the prospect to start something new without making the same old mistakes. You are not a French Organization or another Singapore. But you are in Colombo, in Sri Lanka, and you should blend your ideas and activities to suit your needs and requirements.”
According to Damith de Silva who spoke to the writer on the phone from Paris on 8 May, things are progressing fast. He does not like to reveal much at this moment of time but could only say: “We are in the first stage of contacts. Our hard work managed to bring both of them to Sri Lanka.”