Onwards with plan for Georgetown
September 5, 2000
The symposium organised by the Ministry of Housing and the CHPA on the Greater Georgetown Development Plan (GGDP) was an exceedingly good idea and citizens can begin to hope that the orderly development of the rest of the capital city is a possibility. It was a great pity that the symposium was poorly attended. Innumerable stakeholders in the city have an interest in the way the development of Georgetown proceeds and it is hoped that future discourses on the plan are better received prior to its finalisation by December this year.
As we pointed out in our editorial of August 17, Georgetown has been in a state of anarchy for many years and this has caused a virtual explosion of construction that does not recognise the concept of zoning. The city's questionable record in granting permits has also lent to this calumny of unchecked construction and no part of the city has been immune to it. Since the Costello Plan of 1950 , which was formulated in line with the Town and Country Planning Ordinance of 1946 , no new plan has been unfurled for the capital city. The Costello Plan was drawn up when Georgetown was essentially a port city and its physical boundaries bear no relevance to what they are today.
The presentation on Friday by Chartered Town Planner, Professor Akhtar Khan set out an impressive list of possibilities in the GGDP which Housing Minister Shaik Baksh has given an assurance to expedite.
A key contention of the draft plan is that modern legislation has to be on the books to underpin its successful implementation. The current Town and Country Planning Act is ancient compared to our needs and must be repealed and replaced or exhaustively overhauled. Strictly enforced residential, business, entertainment, recreation and conservation zones are a part of the plan. Mr Khan also cited the need for an overall development policy, the immediate cessation of the ribbon development along the main roads, segregation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in residential areas and the planning of residential settlements away from the city. Cognisant of the ever deepening traffic congestion in the city, the re-routing of vehicles - as had been recommended by others - was proposed. This entails the establishment of three mini-bus termini, a city centre bus route and a parking plan for Georgetown. A new four-lane road south of the east coast railway with another lane to serve as a by-pass for the east bank, west bank and west coast was proposed.
Construction of roundabouts at critical junctions to increase traffic capacity was also mooted. Interestingly, Mr Khan decried the expenditure on the east coast railway road as a waste of taxpayers money. He pointed out that there was no great distance from the main east coast highway and he said he had never seen a one-way main road of its type anywhere else. It seemed a hurried job, he said.
Landscaping and the setting aside of conservation zones are also catered for in the draft plan along with other issues such as the relocation of the Georgetown Prison out of the city.
There are a few points worth making. First, the completion of the plan can fall victim to the giddiness of election year promises and prevarication and unnecessary delays. The Minister of Housing has given a commitment and he and his government will be held accountable for having the plan completed, implemented and legally empowered.
Second, the plan will only be ink on paper if it is not accompanied by a viable financing matrix for the projects such as the four-lane thoroughfare and mini-bus termini. How it meshes with the nascent National Development Strategy is also to be considered. Fund-raising will be a key challenge and the government has to set about attracting multilateral and private investment.
Third, there should be a freeze on new construction and projects which might be in conflict with the accepted content of the plan. Any new construction approved should be within the zoning and other strictures as contained in the plan. Mr Khan's scathing criticism of the railway embankment road is an example of the type of development we should think twice of now.
Fourth, improving the quality of the administration of the city is a prerequisite to any plan, no matter how flawless. The present system and its political occupants have signally failed in this respect. A re-engineering is needed here and this has to be deliberated on by the government and political parties.
Georgetown may never again be the Garden City but this plan could put it a long way towards orderliness and greater aesthetic appeal.
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