Sri Lanka: Spatial Planning — Part 1

In this series, the author suggested a Significant Solution for Multifaceted Socio-economic Problems in Sri Lanka: Improve the Efficiency and Performance of the Economy Through Space Management.

4 mins read
Houses and Apartment Complexes seen from the top of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on August 7, 2023. The current metro area population of Colombo in 2023 will be 633,000, a 1.12% increase from 2022. The metro area population of Colombo in 2022 was 626,000, a 1.13% increase from 2021. The metro area population of Colombo in 2021 was 619,000, a 0.98% increase from 2020. (Photo by Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto)

The Background

1.1 National Development and Planning

There are many definitions and explanations for national planning and national development. However, “national development” refers to the improvement in all aspects, including the country’s political, economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological, and material spheres. Citizens’ standard of living is an indicator of the level of development of a country. Development is inclusive and more comprehensive than growth. Growth is usually defined as an increase in a country’s gross and per capita production. Without changing other facets of development, a mere increase in income may not reflect a comprehensive sustainable development scenario. This applies to a region, subregion, or group of people in a county.

The national socioeconomic development plan provides a comprehensive overview of the economy and sets policy directions for economic growth and development.  As such, it identifies a comprehensive set of strategies, programmes, projects, and activities to improve the country’s socio-economic framework. The National Planning Department is the central institution responsible for this task in Sri Lanka. It is committed to policy development and planning, with a national perspective for accelerating Sri Lanka’s economic development and social progress.

1.2 Regional Development and Planning

According to the OECD, “Regional development is a broad term but can be seen as a general effort to enhance well-being and living standards in all region types, from cities to rural areas, and improve their contribution to national performance and more inclusive, resilient societies”. Though there are different definitions and explanations, regional development is an attempt to reduce the regional disparities in the quality of life while increasing the contribution of each region to the national economy. Regional development planning deals with integrated management of the defined region’s economic, social, and physical resources to achieve the above objectives. Also, it may involve the transfer of income and resources from developed regions to other regions to complement and enhance the capacity of a region to achieve regional development goals.  

 1.3 Spatial Planning   

Regional/spatial /physical/ urban / land use planning is sometimes used synonymously. However, there are differences between them according to the purpose for which they are used. According to the European Regional/Spatial Planning Charter adopted in 1983: “Regional/Spatial Planning gives geographical expression to the economic, social, cultural, and ecological policies of society. It is, at the same time, a scientific discipline, an administrative technique, and a policy developed as an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach directed towards a balanced regional development and the physical organisation of space according to an overall strategy”.  As per the National Physical Planning Policy & The Plan- 2017– 2050 Sri Lanka, “the National Physical Planning Policy is to provide broad national-level guidance for all development agencies for the planning and execution of development activities, which will directly impact upon the physical environment of the country and to establish facilities, amenities, and service-related infrastructure incidental to the development of the physical environment. This National Physical Plan shall be regarded as the development framework derived out of the said National Physical Planning Policy, and it shall be implemented and enforced through detailed Regional Plans which are formulated either for Provinces or Specially Designated Regions, Local Area Development Plans which are prepared either by the Urban Development Authority as per the provisions of the relevant law or the development agency authorized to formulate such plans, and development Projects which are designed and executed by sector-specific development agencies as per the provisions of the respective legislations”.

Except for the fiscal policy, all others, whether national/sectoral/regional/physical plans, are implemented in human settlements using the territorial space. Humann settlement is a cluster of dwellings where humans live with required facilities. People create houses and other structures and infrastructure, use/exploit natural resources, and change the landscape of the specific area or territory as the economic base. In this process, the demand increases competitively for the space for multiple uses.  The competition creates sustainability issues, disrupting the land use pattern and denying the space for future development. Whatever the term we use, these planning systems consider the best utilisation of the space for all social and economic activities of human beings while protecting the environment. In other words, it is an attempt to use the available land area and natural resources to satisfy multiple human needs sustainably and reserve the space for future development. Spatial plans coordinate and guide the location/setting of various projects of the economic development plan cost-effectively and efficiently, complementing each other. It will regulate the current land use and guide future land use. Spatial plans need to be enforced by relevant authorities through Acts of Parliament and regulations. Economic development plans guided and backed by spatial plans would reap the maximum returns to investments, balance the current and future demand for land and natural resources, and improve the efficiency of production factors.

1.4 Physical Planning of Sub-National Regions  

 At the sub-national levels, physical plans may be developed with more details for individual provinces, districts, Local government areas, or a combination of these to translate the national physical plan into a reality. In preparing sub-national regional plans, the tendency is to formulate those based on the above political or administrative boundaries. However, such boundaries are not carved out according to development potentials, natural resource endowment, settlement pattern or the mobility pattern of people, goods, and services.  People of one politico-administrative area may have built their connectivity with other adjoining such areas, or a given natural resource may be required to be shared among several politico-administrative regions. Ideally, regional plans may be prepared based on specially designed regions considering the resource endowment, prior-settlement pattern, and other considerations of development potentials. The resource base within a region includes the environment, natural resources, forest and wildlife reserves, water bodies, agriculture, forestry, mining, space for future development, etc. For the convenience of implementation and enforcement, such integrated/holistic regional plans may be segregated according to administrative boundaries.

 1.5 Urban Planning     

Urban planning is a type of spatial planning that focuses on designing land use and related social, cultural, infrastructure and other considerations in a built environment. It encompasses multiple aspects of a metropolitan area to make it a prosperous, pleasant, and convenient living environment. It includes all infrastructures and constructions required for the human being to live comfortably in a designated urban area. It considers timely and cost-effective transport, the physical layout of development activities, types and densities of residences, construction parameters, aesthetics, environmental concerns, etc., within the urban area. It organises all competing physical activities, ensuring orderly and effective coexistence and optimizing land utilisations. Unplanned urban development makes urban living unpleasant and unattractive for the growth of industrial, business and service sectors.

To be continued

Sirisena Amarasekara

Sirisena Amarasekara is a Sri Lankan public servant and diplomat. He is the former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Angola, Botswana, and Eswatin. He had functioned as the secretary to the Prime Minister on two occasions, and as the secretary to the Cabinet of Sri Lanka. Having completed more than 50 years of public service, Amarasekara is one of the most senior Sri Lankan public servants.

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