Significance of Town Planning


By Prof. Ashley LS Perera
Former Senior Professor of Town Planning
University of Moratuwa

The World Town Planning Day (WTPD) was celebrated on Nov. 08. WTPD was initially mooted by Professor Carlos Maria della Paolera of the University of Buenos Aires in 1949. WTPD is now observed in thirty countries and four continents to focus attention on the role of town and country planning and to emphasize the positive impact on the development of habitable human settlements. The 50th anniversary of WTPD was celebrated in 1999 in many countries all over the world. However it is regrettable to note that most countries in the developing world including Sri Lanka have failed to focus sufficient attention as regards their role and responsibility towards development and maintenance of a healthy human habitat.

WTPD has been observed in many countries for several decades. However such an event was organized in Sri Lanka for the first time in the year 2001. This year‘s theme of the WTPD as focused by the International Division of the American Planning Association is ‘Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG) and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ (NUA) with emphasis on energy planning and indigenous community planning. The UN goals aim at eradicating poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. It emphasizes that the success in achieving these goals will require the active participation of the government, private sector, civil society and people. The UN identified seventeen (17) areas of concern. This in summary comprise of (a) eradication of poverty and hunger,(b) good health and well-being, (c) quality of education, (d) gender equality, (e) safe drinking water and improved sanitation,(f)affordable and clean energy and (g) decent work and economic growth. The UN sustainable development goals (SDG) and the new urban agenda (NUA) are apparently macro- economic and macro spatial approaches. These ideally are to be carried out at national and regional levels to achieve a sustainable rate of economic growth without creating economic problems for the future generations. It has been emphasized that there should necessarily be a trade-off between current economic growth and future growth.

However, it would seem appropriate to examine the significance of town and country planning at a much lower level like for instance the town and country. The discipline of town and country planning has been primarily geared to the provision of conducive human settlements environment. It has its origins in the Public Health Acts of the second half of the nineteenth century Britain. The Industrial Revolution in England led to an urbanization process and the growth of large factory towns which occurred at a time when planning and building regulations were non- existent. Consequently, thousands of dwellings were run up without adequate sanitary provision. These dwellings had no provision for safe drinking water, they were ill-ventilated and dirty. There was no system of drainage with only ill constructed cesspools. House refuse was not collected and destroyed but merely deposited in gutters or on waste ground at odd corners. These factors not only added to the horrors of town life but also gave rise to disease and death.

The relevance of the above arises from the fact that most of the expressed concerns were later to become the subject matter of town and country planning. It also provided a strong justification for state intervention in the provision of urban utilities with a view to remedy an appalling situation and the introduction of legislation to compel private parties to comply with minimum standards.

Town and country planning developed in many developing countries including Sri Lanka in the British tradition. Successive Acts of the British Parliament recognized the principles inter alia of planned use of land which constitute the main focus of town and country planning. The Housing and Town Improvement Ordinance (1915), the Town and Country Planning Ordinance (1947) and The Urban Development Authority Law of 1978 along with subsequent amendments are the principal statutes which provide for the conducive development of human settlements. The H & T I Ordinance was meant to improve housing and towns primarily through development control measures. The T & C P Ordinance was introduced for making of schemes with respect to the planning and development of land in Sri Lanka, and to the protection of buildings and other objects of beauty. A third statute to be introduced was the U.D.A Law of 1978 for the promotion of integrated planning and implementation of the economic, social, physical and environmental development of urban areas.

Major Urban Development Projects apart, these statutes with their subsequent amendments could certainly provide for a conducive human settlements environment if effectively administered by implementing agencies such as designated local authorities and the UDA. The tragedy is that this does not happen that way. The local authorities and the UDA have displayed their ineffectiveness in dealing with problems in their respective designated areas.

Most local authorities are currently beset with problems of crisis proportions. Solid waste management is one such problem where they have failed in the task of solid waste collection and disposal presenting not only a very unpleasant sight but also unbearable stench and odour that emanate from such refuse. Noise and air pollution are other hazards that continue to adversely affect the living environment. Despite rigorous land use planning, the relevant authorities seem to flout, misuse, disuse and abuse of land uses in their designated areas. Ironically the town and country planning statutes mentioned earlier in this paper were introduced to overcome these very same problems. It is not only that many of our planners do not seem to possess the imaginative and creative abilities that are required but they also lack social discipline and lend themselves to the pervasive features of the socio-economic, political and juridical environment that exist. The experience of this writer to a complaint made to the UDA regarding a junk yard in a primary residential area did not receive any response so far although nearly one year has passed.


animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...