By Champika Fernando
The Ministry of Sports will press ahead with the proposed multi-million dollar High Altitude Training Centre and the super luxury hotel within the confines of the picturesque Race Course in Nuwara Eliya once it gets the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) done.
Rejected by the Cabinet Review Sub Committee (CRSC) of the Treasury on two previous instances (2009 and 2013), the project has been pursued under the new government despite all of the former regime’s unsolicited projects being suspended as a policy decision.
Once completed, the High Altitude Training Centre will provide indoor and outdoor training facilities at 1868m altitude. But questions have been raised about the cost at which the government is pursuing the project in one of Sri Lanka’s most sought after tourist locales.
The training facility is expected to have 400 metre and 200-metre running tracks, a 400-metre natural running track, two pavilions, a cricket ground, an indoor stadium, swimming pools, training centres and five-star hotel.
According to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), they previously rejected an EIA done by the Urban Development Authority and ordered a fresh EIA to be carried out for approval.
“The Urban Development Authority had done an EIA some years back but we rejected it. So we will assess the impact on the environment once the new EIA is done,” a source from the CEA confirmed.
Sports Minister Navin Dissanayake, when contacted, confirmed that he is going ahead with the proposal despite the enormous cost involved.
“I have got the treasury approval after assessing the financial feasibility of the project. The next step is to get the EIA done through a reputed organization before getting the cabinet approval,” minister confirmed.
Accordingly the ministry has asked University of Moratuwa to do the EIA.
“I personally believe that there would not be any environment impact here since it’s a massive flat land. But we will go through proper channels to get this project through,” he added. A Bill of Quantities provided by a China-based firm, China Volant Industry Co. Ltd, in December 2014, given to then Sports Minister, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, to design, supply materials and build the high performance training centre, has quoted a whopping US$ 88 million.
An additional US$14 million is put down as credit loan management fees, credit loan commitment fees, loan interests during grace period and loan interests after grace period. The amount to be obtained is a loan and has to be repaid to the funding source.
However, Minister Dissanayake said that the training facility will cost US$ 61 million while US$ 20 million will be spent on putting up a five-star hotel in the popular tourist destination to generate income. The funders have given a 20-year repayment period with three year grace period of pay off the loan.
But critics question the need for such a high-profile training centre for Sri Lanka at such high cost. They also ask what plans the government has in place to recover the investment.
Sri Lanka spent over Rs. 3 billion in renovation and construction of the three cricket venues in Kettarama, Pallekele and Sooriyawewa to co-host the World Cup in 2011 but have since struggled to foot the bill with millions still owed to the state-owned institutions
“I was initially concerned about the cost of the project, whether it would be another white elephant,” the Minister maintained. “But I’m confident that it won’t be a white elephant. We will have the hotel and also we will get foreign athletes coming down for training here. So in this way we could generate funds.”
“Of course, we need a high altitude training centre in order for our athletes to achieve excellence in sports. But the question is whether we need such a high profile place and also whether the Race course is the right location for it,” said Panduka Keerthinananda, former Chairman of Sugathadasa National Sports Complex Authority.
“This is a very important place for us and if we put a cluster of buildings in that area, it will not only damage the beauty of the environment but pose many environmental hazards. The best is to shift it to a different place,” he added
According to documents in the Daily Mirror’s possession, Rs. 200 million had been spent in 2009 when Gamini Lokuge was the Minister of Sports to develop the infrastructure in the 85-acre land but was later abandoned due to environmental concerns.
Why should there be any enviorment problems in developing land which, if not developed could become an enviorment issue.This is just a barren god for saken land now which once was a jewel in Nuwaraeliya.Now all that you get there is garbage,overgrown shrubs,dilaplated old Town Hall and a horse race track which is good for the bulls to plough.No mayor in Nuwaraeliya has ever bothered to look after the city and make it vibrant.One can see shany buildings allover the once beautiful Golf Links border opposite Cargills.The streams have been blocked and narrowed,play areas have been taken over for shanty buildings.The once serene city is now just an eyesore.Needs real development for tourists and locals.
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