Chartered Architect/Chartered Town Planner
In the light of numerous articles and news items issued by the various ministries and authorities with regard to the reconstruction and relocation and the contemplated distances that should be kept as a buffer zone from the seashore, I would like to make professional overview of the situation.
Having viewed this unfortunate tragedy we should all use it as a silver lining to beautify our coastline and improve the basic infrastructure for the people who choose to live and work along the coast.
The Coast Conservation Department with the aid of foreign consultants have identified the distances from the coast to be kept to prevent sea errosion.
I think we should keep to these distances since these professionals have worked out these distances with empirical research over a long period of time. We should reconsider and give a lot of thought before any restrictions are contemplated with regard to new hotel development.
The reasons are as follows:
If the proposed distance of 100 metres from the seashore is made law, then from Bambalapitiya down to the coast no development will take place and the same would happen from Negambo upto Puttalam and along the East coast.
There have been tsunamis and tidal waves in other countries like Hawaii and Japan and no restriction were brought in with regard to future development in these countries.
During our monsoons some of our rivers overflow and breach the banks on either side. Do we in these instances evacuate or relocate the villages living on either side of these rivers?
The way to go about this is either as an individual country or jointly with other countries in the region contribute to a tsunami early warning system.
I would agree with the government's thinking that out of this tragedy we should take the opportunity to rectify our mistakes, in the field of town and country planning together with zoning of the houses in the affected areas, which have mushroomed over the years.
We should also provide decent housing and infrastructure for the fisherfolk who have live in substandard housing for decades.
We should relocate all the temporary structures, which have become permanent and unauthorised structures along the 100m zone, settle these behind the buffer zone with proper housing and infrastructure including social infrastructure such as schools, community centres, dispensaries, post offices and places of worship etc.
Let the coast be landscaped so that Sri Lankans and visitors could enjoy the beauty of our country and just as the President recently stated and I quote "Colombo should be turned into a garden city" while opening the Beira lake development, so could the coast be developed as a linear green belt.
I strongly feel that the existing and future hotels should be allowed to remain where they are adhering to the coast conservation limit so that we will not destroy our tourist industry which will now grow in sympathy to the destruction caused by the tsunami of 2004. May be there will not be another tsunami during our lifetime.
As time goes on the tourists who will come to Sri Lanka are not mindful of our tragedy. They require a good holiday ambience and they should have a feel of the seal and the seashore. This is a primary and principal requirement of a holiday resort.
There are a lot of people who depend on our tourist industry and we should make every endeavour to promote the industry rather than control the industry.
No developer would want to build any type of hotel beyond the required distance as stipulated by the Coast Conservation Department before this tragedy occurred leave alone a 100 metre buffer zone as being contemplated now. If this law is implemented it will be a total catastrophe to the future development of the hotel industry.
Bali is considered one of the most sought after tourist resorts in the world and the reason being that the hotels are in close proximity to the seashore.
The authorities there wisely restricted the height of the buildings to 10 metres, which is less than the height of the coconut palms. This scale of hotel development is in harmony with the coast.
I strongly recommend that the Urban Development Authority should monitor the future hotel projects along the coast and enforce a thirty foot height rule and a mandatory landscape concept plan and encourage developers to allocate 15% of the cost of the project for landscaping of the development to harmonise with the surroundings.
The maintenance of these greenbelts should be the responsibility of the local authority concerned and hotel owners could pay a monthly maintenance fee.
If the Coast Conservation Department feels that the hotels close to the sea shore in areas are liable to errosion then preventative measures should be designed and taken by the hotel developers in consultation with the Coast Conservation Department so that all Sri Lankan and visitors driving along or walking along the side of the coast should get views and glimpses of the sea including good Hotel Architecture and the landscaped areas.
The wellbeing of the fishermen is as important as the costal hotel development. While the families of the fishermen could be housed in new housing complexes, planners should provide footpaths to the beach in appropriate positions to access the beach.
The mooring of boats in clusters and locked for safety should be an important factor in the planning process. Sanitary and storage facilities near the beach together with vehicular access from the main road to the beach should be provided at regular intervals along the coastal belt.
The vehicular access will provide the means for the fishermen to sell their catch to the fish mudalalies who come in their lorries to buy this fish. A professional approach by Architects and Planners should combine a harmonious blend of the day to day living of the fishermen and the leisure activities of the hotels and their guests.
The relocation of houses and other buildings beyond the buffer zone should be approached professionally, taking into account the plot sizes, width of roads etc and the planning module or grid to lend itself to easy accessibility of infrastructure distribution from the main source to the housing units.
The housing mix can take different forms; generic type plans can be formulated depending on the topography and the locations on the coast. The sub-structure or the foundations could be done by one agency and the super-structure can be done by another agency so that we short-circuit the development and construction process.
When the implementing agency quantifies the material required for the housing units there should be one central body that distributes building materials this would help the accountability and transparency of these items and controls could be more efficient and streamlined.
The government should also consider land tenure like in other countries. It is advisable like in other countries when ownership is given the attitudes of the occupants are different and thereby a special interest is generated through the process of ownership of the property.
Finally we should all unite to approach this disaster in a pro-active manner so that in the future our coastal belt could be planned and redeveloped and would be a sought out holiday resort to the rest of the world.
The benefits of the hotel industry could filter to the general population and the fishermen could carry out their calling profitably with their families living in better conditions than before the disaster.
We should prevent ad hoc construction and subsequent regularisation by interested parties of these structures on the coastal belt.
It is a rare opportunity for the government and all of us citizens to give the people living and working in the affected areas a better standard of living in the way of good housing and good infrastructure together with the community needs and requirement so that their quality of life is far better than before the tsunami of 2004.
Finally we can tell the entire world that responded spontaneously, the monies that were donated by all were well spent.