The entire Western Province can look forward to becoming a US $ 300 billion ‘Megapolis’ in 25 years under a new government, according to Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, who was addressing the business community at the ‘Unite’ forum last week.“Economic growth today is being driven by mega cities, and our idea in 2002/2003 was to create a mega city in the whole of Western Province” he said.Wickremasinghe said that if past plans had come to fruition, the mega city would have been the biggest developed metropolis in the Indian Ocean, overtaking Chennai.
“It’s not US$ 2 billion, at the end of it you’ll have to put in over US$200-300 billion, and we have to have a separate vehicle; the ‘Megapolis Development Corporation’ which, like the Americans, will have to issue the bonds for the long term,” he said.Wickremasinghe noted that the project will continue for 20-25 years, but questioned why the country should not start on it immediately.“By 2023 we’ll have 75 years of Independence. Show something for ourselves. Show an economy that’s worth it,” he said.He claimed that over 1/3 of the national population, nearly 9 million people were envisioned to live in this mega city.
According to Wickremasinghe, the document, which was finished in 2004 by Singapore’s Housing Development Board subsidiary CESMA International Pte Ltd, was not to just build infrastructure, but was a comprehensive economic plan.“If we don’t have that (Megapolis) we won’t have growth, just as how we went for Mahaweli the last time, this was the bigger one,” Wickremasinghe noted.
He said the document evaluated how cities drove growth, and how a Megapolis can be gradually achieved through tourism, infrastructure, job creation and the integration of the rest of the country which will support the city.“Technology has to increase, agriculture has to be modernized (to support); the people come into the city and other urban centres like Kandy. We’ll also build 100 factories in Hambantota,” he said.
Wickremasinghe claimed that the plan was submitted to successive governments for implementation, which drew from it flamboyant parts of the project such as infrastructure development and implemented them haphazardly, while claiming full credit. “That’s not a Megapolis,” Wickremasinghe said. According to the original plan, sewage and waste disposal systems were to be advanced first, and then moving lowincome households to low and middle rise housing, while middle-incomers were to live in high rise buildings, freeing land for development.The airport and port were to be expanded, with the old port complex being converted to cater to cruise and luxury tourists, while towards the latter stages, reclaiming land to build a port city.
Further, ample car parking, mass rapid transit systems and a multiple 6-8 lane highway system were planned, while the current business district was to become the downtown area, and the outlying suburbs were also to be fully developed and integrated.Wickremasinghe said that the plan was sustainable, and had an environmental impact assessment and feasibility study.He alleged that the government’s Port City which is currently under construction does not seem to have these two important documents, as they have failed to provide them despite constant requests.
“If no project has that, we will stop that, and review the whole thing and decide what has to be done,” he stressed.He also noted that the current government’s construction of high-rises and highways will double the cost of constructing the required sewers, and the city will become unhygienic in 5-6 years if they are not present.He said the congestion near highway entrances will also be addressed.
While the current government’s US$ 2 billion Port City is funded by Chinese loans, Wickremasinghe had previously said the Megapolis was to be funded initially through Japanese and Singaporean funds.The government is presently evaluating a transportation hub similar to Kuala Lumpur, and has signed an agreement with Malaysia’s Maju TMAS for knowledge transfer.