The Urban Development Authority was established 40 years ago to manage urban growth in Sri Lanka. It was born with the certification of the Urban Development Authority Law No.41 of 1978 on September 6, 1978. This new Law which provided for an innovative new agency to promote integrated planning and the implementation of economic, social and physical development of urban areas in Sri Lanka was a landmark legislation. This Law, for the first time focused on the integrated development of urban areas rather than on mere physical planning hitherto practiced by the Town & Country Planning Department.
The new Government, which came into power in 1977, launched an unprecedented development effort removing controls that pervaded public life till then and focused on the creation of a liberalized economy and the promotion of private sector participation. This development and modernization initiative had a heavy focus on three priority subject areas:
- The Mahaweli Development Programme
- The Free Trade Zone
- The Housing & Urban Development Programme
The first mega urban development project to be undertaken for implementation by the UDA was the Echelon Square Project in Colombo. The preliminary designs for the project had been already prepared under the Master Plan by George Kostritsky, a reputed Architect from the USA, who had designed the redevelopment of the derelict Harbour front of Baltimore City. The UDA under the directions of Neville Gunarathna finalized these plans and launched its implementation, with the lease of the identified development sites. The first land lot ever leased by the UDA was to be from the Echelon Square to the Bank of Ceylon, for its Head Quarters.
When the Government decided to establish a new Administrative Capital in Sri Jayewardenepura and to build the Parliament in the new Capital City, the task of implementing this decision was entrusted to the Urban Development Authority. This was an enormous responsibility which required close coordination and monitoring with a whole host of high profile actors, and several state agencies. I recollect the first inspection made of the proposed development area by a small team led by Secretary Paskaralingam, which included Neville Gunarathna, Author Row, Dakshitha Thalgadapitiya, the Chairman of the Reclamation Board and me. We drew-up at the then culvert on the road to Battaramulla (replaced by the present blue coloured bridge) and could not proceed beyond through the marsh. The Reclamation Board later constructed a temporary bridge from the Pita Kotte end of the marsh to approach the “Duwa” island which has been selected as the venue for the Parliament Building. The team led by Neville Gunarathna prepared the physical plan for the development of the Capital City, while the designing of the Parliament building itself was entrusted to Geoffrey Bawa, the world renowned Sri Lankan Architect. The Mitsui Company of Japan was awarded the contract for the construction of the Parliament Building with the UDA as the client agency. I recollect the weekly monitoring and trouble-shooting meetings chaired by Secretary Paskaralingam which was held at the then Ministry of Local Government, Housing & Construction at “Transworkers House” in Fort, where he had to deal with the varying demands of the several highly motivated actors in the project; the inimitable Geoffry Bawa and the meticulous Mitsui officials led by their Site Engineer Isoyama on the one hand, and a host of high level state officials on the other. Most demanding amongst them I recollect were, Daksitha Thalgodapitiya Chairman of Reclamation Board, Madugalle, General Manager of the Water Board Tudor Gunawardana, Denzil Senanayaka and RSA Peiris, from the Highways, Poolgasunderen from the Architects, M.L Victor, General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board, B. Ferdinandez, Director of Land Development and A. Shanmugaraja Director of Telecommunications. I had to keep notes of those meetings and take immediate follow-up action. Meanwhile, Wadugedara, the UDA Director of Lands had an unenviable task to identify and acquire all empty and unused lands around the Parliament site, which included surveying, and initiating acquisition procedures. The lands acquired included the present sites of office complex as well as the site of the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.
With the Government’s decision to shift public office buildings in Colombo to the new Capital City, the UDA was also entrusted with the construction of two multi-stored office complexes: the “Sethsiripaya” in Battaramulla and the “Isurupaya” in Pelawatta.