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Kaduwela transformed

Kaduwela is now the largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo, with 270,000 residents. It has a low population density of 3,000 per square kilometre. In the mid 20th Century, Kaduwela was the happy hunting ground of the Left-wing nationalist movement, led by Robert Gunawardena, who was MP for the area from 1947 to 1965. From 1965 to 1977 it was represented by Chandra Gunasekera, another Leftist firebrand

Last month all eyes were fixed on the local elections in the North. As a result observers appear to be missing a significant landmark in the South: the elections in the Kaduwela area this time were not for a Pradeshiya Sabha (Divisional Council), but for a Municipal Council.

It is unprecedented in Sri Lanka for an area to change its designation overnight from rural to metropolitan - usually it is an Urban Council which is upgraded to a Municipality - yet this is precisely what has happened in Kaduwela.

Kaduwela town

Of course, it has been an urban area for some time, but this was not administratively recognized. Its importance was acknowledged by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he opened the local authority's new administrative complex last January.

He pointed out that affluent people in Colombo were selling or leasing out their properties and moving out to the Kaduwela area. Poorer people, from areas like Borella, Rajagiriya and Kotte, too have also migrated there in the past two decades.

Largest city

In fact, Kaduwela is now the largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo, with 270,000 residents. It has a low population density of 3,000 per square kilometre - actually considered the ideal density by British 'Garden City' planners such as Ebenezer Howard, Raymond Unwin and Patrick Geddes.

Kaduwela has historically been part of the Colombo District's nationalist and Left-wing heartland. King Rajasinghe I levied troops from Koratota and Hokandara on his way to the Battle of Mulleriyawa where he vanquished the Portuguese.

It was in honour of the part that these men played in that victory that the county was renamed 'Hewagam Korale', from 'Hewakam' - military service. So it perhaps apt that the new military headquarters are coming up at Akuregoda, near Pelawatte.

In the mid 20th Century, Kaduwela was the happy hunting ground of the left-wing nationalist movement, led by Robert Gunawardena, who was MP for the area from 1947 to 1965. From 1965 to 1977 it was represented by Chandra Gunasekera, another Leftist firebrand.

Kaduwela MC

The area now covered by the Kaduwela MC used to be administered by the Battaramulla Town Council and two Village Councils.

After JR Jayewardene abolished TCs and VCs, there was no local government in the area until the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa introduced the Pradeshiya Sabha concept.

It was Kingsley T Wickramaratne, MP for Colombo district and SLFP Organizer for Kaduwela, who first proposed that Kaduwela be made into a Municipal Council.

This was to acknowledge the fact that the area was becoming much more urban. Former rubber plantations in Malabe, Pelawatte, Hokandara and Athurugiriya had become middle-class suburbs.

It also reflected the position of Battaramulla as part of the new Capital - although Parliament is in Sri Jayawardhanapura Kotte, road access is through Battaramulla. Furthermore, government offices such as Sethsiripaya and Isurupaya were firmly within the former Battaramulla TC limits.

Apart from the new Capital, there were some other factors which engendered the rapid expansion of middle-class suburbs in the Kaduwela area.

The first was the development of roads, notably the new Parliamentary dual carriageway, the New Kandy Road and the widening of Borella Road (Malabe-Athurugiriya-Godagama).

Millennium City

The build-up of traffic on the Galle Road, the Baseline Road and the High Level Road/Havelock Road suddenly precipitated the understanding that the North-South axis was not the only possibility for Colombo's suburban expansion.

Kaduwela and Athurugiriya are the same distance from Colombo Fort as Moratuwa and Ja-Ela. However, the travel time is much faster because the roads are not as congested. Kalapaluwawa is closer than Kirulapone, Pelawatte has easier access than Kalubowila.

The large private-sector housing development at Athurugiriya, known as Millennium City, also helped the flow of middle-class people into this hitherto semi-rural mainly working-class area. Smaller private sector housing schemes exploded onto the map of Kaduwela. The large area and the vast open spaces, including bodies of water and paddy fields, make for a highly desirable residential area for those of the elite wishing for an urban-rural habitat, with wildlife in the backyard.

Low income

The area around the Talangama Tank has become an exclusive upper middle class zone, while property prices have sky-rocketed in Kotiyagoda (across the Kolonnawa Ela from Rajagiriya), where two luxury high-rise residential towers have come up.

Considering the size and wealth of its population, the Pradeshiya Sabha had a surprisingly low income. This was because hitherto rates were not collected in many areas. Indeed, most developed lands had not even been assessed.

However, last year the Valuation Department completed the assessment of properties in Kaduwela as part of an ongoing process. Hence, with the transition to Municipal status, the local authority will be in a position to levy rates at a higher level.

The way is thus open for the development of Kaduwela as a city in its own right. Its population is due to explode once the new Outer circular Highway, with an exit next to Kaduwela town, is completed in 2014.

It is to be hoped that the newly elected Municipal Council, headed by the new Mayor, veteran local politician GH Buddhadasa, will be mindful of the mal-development of Colombo city and its neighbours. Kaduwela has the chance to be a Garden City and a model for urban development in the entire region. The new council has an historic opportunity which should not be muffed.

 

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