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Development project information: Public expectations and their right to know


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Are Sri Lankan development regulators ready to force developers to ensure transparent and complete project information is available for public scrutiny? If they could ensure it happens, the good news is that all developers, the regulators and the public will benefit in the long run – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara


 

Infrastructure development will be at the centre-stage during the next five years, irrespective of which mainstream political party will be in power. 

This writer has previously had articles published in the Daily FT on building regulations, infrastructure planning and quality of construction and also on condominium development. If relevant professionals in the Government sector drew attention to the issues the writer discussed, a few structural changes to the building regulatory framework would have been introduced, by now. It seems that such actions were of low priority for them. Or else, they did not understand the repercussions of not taking preventative actions. 

The question is what price the nation would pay for this indifference. Sooner rather than later, wider cracks will appear in the regulatory compliance practices, nevertheless already having a deficient regulatory system. This writer earnestly hopes that the authorities will be ready with technical resources and corrective actions, when this inevitability occurs.

The focus of this article is to emphasise the need of establishing an asset management culture in the organisations, to educate developers with a series of Australian best practice documentation which are developed during the planning and design stage of a major building development project and also to comment on how the project information is shared with general public, in Australia. 

The Sri Lankan public can demand similar information availability from the developers and from the Government authorities, if Sri Lankan development approval authorities enforce this requirement. 

Establishment of physical asset management practices and culture 

All organisations which own and manage assets need to have asset management culture within their organisations. Asset management is a relatively new professional discipline and it needs a multi-disciplinary approach. Hence, the physical asset management discipline belongs to a mixture of professionals such as engineers, quantity surveyors, economists, facilities managers, etc. They should work collaboratively to promote organisation-wide actions to achieve asset management objectives. This group should develop Asset Management Policy, AM Strategy and Strategic Asset Management Plan to cover entire asset portfolio, for each organisation.

New infrastructure assets are investments for the developers or for the government agencies who provide capital funding. Any investor expects returns for the investments made. Obviously a private developer would seek monetary returns. On the contrary, a government agency may expect public benefits. These public benefits would also generate money for the government at a later stage, in terms of fees and charges and taxes as the infrastructure investments would trigger economic activity of a country.

Asset management is all about knowing the asset well; having relevant basic quantitative and condition assessment data; updating essential data periodically; managing operational, compliance and maintenance activities at an optimum level; replacing and renewing asset components on time preventing disruptions to the asset operations; upgrading the asset by encompassing technological advances on time and by assessing the business and asset user needs and the disposal of the asset on time.

An asset owner cannot let an asset to deteriorate to a stage, the asset is uneconomical and non-beneficial to operate and use. This means that for every major structure, an Asset Management Plan must be developed preferably at the facility level (Facility Asset Management Plan – FAMP) and the asset manager must follow it during the useful life of the asset. 

The writer is aware that there is a severe shortage of Asset Management professionals in Sri Lanka. This situation was highlighted by the engineers and architects who participated the asset management presentations, the writer delivered at Colombo Municipal Council and Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau, a few years back.

The total return from an investment is calculated for the period of ‘the useful life’ of the built infrastructure. If the assumed returns and or revenues from the investment is more than the costs of operation, maintenance, renewal, replacement, upgrading, end-of-useful-life disposal and also the risks and liabilities management cost, then, the developer would pursue with the investment decision, in financial terms. 

It should be emphasised here that this ‘financial only’ investment decision is based on a range of assumptions and estimations. Assumptions or estimations could be far from the realities. This is why some projects fails to deliver the expected returns. Other reality is that the inward cash flow is inconsistent. Hence, an investor needs to manage cash earnings and ongoing operational costs carefully without redirecting short-term surpluses towards other investments. 

If an investor cannot afford to implement the lifecycle management activities as specified in the FAMP, it is not wise to proceed with investment decision just having capital funds. Successive governments have conveniently disregarded this hard truth to please voters and only capital funds were pumped to build structures. 

Ultimately, the public ended up with continually deteriorating mega infrastructure and the delivery of essential public services were adversely affected due to the government’s inevitable use of limited resources to pay back capital expenditure loans. As a result, no funds were available for implementing asset life cycle activities. This practice needs to be abandoned. 

As an engineer who practises Buildings Asset Management discipline over three decades, the above information is given with a high degree of professional confidence. At present, this writer manages life cycle activities of over 450 local government buildings in NSW Australia.

Sri Lankan infrastructure managers, at least, those in the Government sector, need to adopt advanced asset management practices to manage all infrastructure assets including buildings. The infrastructure designers, engineers and architects must pay special attention on the design form, material selection and the sequence of material installation. This is because that the 70% of the life cycle costs of an asset are to be fixed by the end of the design stage. 

Wrong decision making in designs would cost the owner dearly during the asset life. Especially, the designers must pay due attention to the selection of long-lasting, less combustible materials which require low on-going maintenance. In addition, the formation of composite components must be done logically and sensibly by placing shorter useful life sub-components over the longer useful life sub-components, not in the opposite order. This logical practice would prevent costly replacement of entire components prematurely. Public expects asset owners to manage assets professionally.

 

Public notification process

In Australia, the neighbouring land owners are notified by the approval authorities of any development works proposed on the adjoining land. Generally, the neighbours will receive copies of the submitted construction plans. They are requested to comment on the proposed development and or lodge any objections, if there are any legitimate concerns. 

Further, the neighbours can go to the local City Council office and check all reports and the rest of the plans with regard to the proposed development. Councils publish local newspaper advertisements, listing the development applications lodged to Council each month for approval and the residents can comment on any projects, irrespective where the developments take place within the local government area.

This process is adopted at highly intensified level for the major regional construction projects such as airports, sports stadiums, etc. Public notifications on such projects appear on well-circulated regional and national newspapers and also in the Local City Council and the State Government websites with specific details, how to obtain project documents. 

Usually, the Government agencies conduct a series of public consultation sessions on such national projects to get the public feedback. Sri Lankan authorities must initiate such a notification and consultation process on all nationally significant development projects to allow public to have their say.

 

Development project documentation

To explain the best practice documentation adopted in Australia, this writer has selected a typical major building development project. The nature of documentation varies for each project, however, the following documentation will offer a general guide what is available for public scrutiny.

Site Investigation Report: This report fulfils two purposes for the designers. It will reveal underground geotechnical information such as bed rock and groundwater table levels and the soil strata properties for the structural engineer to decide which type of foundation structure must be designed and incorporated into the proposed structure. 

In addition, this site investigation provides ground contamination levels and the extent of the contamination within the site. The presence of a full range of contaminants such as asbestos, acid sulphates, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, pesticides, biphenyls, phenols are to be investigated. The selected site could have been historically used for businesses which generated toxic material. Also, the site could have been a waste dump, during an era when waste disposal practices were not heavily regulated. 

Also, it is a usual environmental practice that some of the investigatory boreholes are converted into permanent ground water monitoring wells for monitoring ground water table continually for quality and quantity. This investigation report is given to a range of professionals to recommend remedial actions if there are site contamination issue. These remedial actions are documented either as a separate report or as an annexure to the investigation report.

Consultation Report: Project planners must identify all stakeholders relevant to the development project. The range of stakeholders would include, the potential users of the building, development approval authorities, utility services authorities, environmental activists, political leaders and the public representatives who have concerns of social, economic, religious, heritage impacts due to the proposed development. 

Depending on the scale of the development, the spectrum of the stakeholders would vary. Successful stakeholder management would play a significant role to minimise ongoing disruptions to the project during construction stage and to make beneficiaries happy during operational stage.

Environmental Assessment Report: The developer must prepare an environmental assessment report to justify the proposed project would not have adverse impacts to the existing environment. When a building is built in close proximity of an environmentally sensitive area such as a river, lake, forest, reserve or a beach, this assessment takes the centre stage on final approval of the project. This report should give sufficient details, how the identified environmental impacts are mitigated to meet acceptable standards to justify the approval of development works by the relevant approval authorities.

Flood Management Report: When a development project is taken place, the intensity of existing stormwater discharge from the site to the stormwater management network is altered. This must be managed. The flood management study considers all probable storm events including one in 100 year storms and measures such as On-Site-Stormwater Detention Systems are proposed to manage stormwater discharge. Sometimes, this report suggests Water Sensitive Urban Design features to improve the quality of stormwater discharge from the site.

Heritage Report: Every country has heritage buildings, sites and structures. Some of the heritage items are buried underground and they may not yet have been revealed. Hence, the developer has to engage a qualified consultant to investigate no only the specific site but also the adjoining sites to determine whether the particular zone has any traces of heritage significant items and also whether any of the adjoining sites are already identified as heritage sites. 

Often, if the development zone is identified as a zone of heritage significant, the developer would be forced to develop heritage conservation plan and implement. Also, developers must introduce certain external architectural features for the building to blend with existing heritage character of the locality. The developer is allowed to incorporate any modern hi-tech features inside the building.

Structural Engineering Report: Structural engineers would come up with the most suitable structural form for the building based on the site properties, natural forces like wind, seismic and intended use of the building, the capacity specified by the developer. The foundation details and the major structural frame would be determined by the data collected from the geotechnical investigations and the Dynamic Wind Analysis, if the building is tall enough to undergo such an analysis. 

This report should outline the excavation depths for the site and how the stability of the excavated areas are achieved to control any movements of the adjoining buildings and any other structures. This includes the control of vibration and noise due to the construction activities of the proposed building.

Wind Assessment Report: This study is undertaken to assess wind speeds at critical outdoor trafficable areas within and around the subject development. This is done in two stages. Initially, a scaled model, which consists of the existing buildings within the selected radius from the new building is tested inside a wind tunnel and measure wind speeds and patterns at selected pedestrian and trafficable locations. Then, the proposed building is incorporated into the model and same is measured. 

By comparing the results, the assessors can determine the impacts on existing buildings, pedestrian and trafficable locations due to the new building. This report must suggest corrective measures for the designers to incorporate into the design if aforementioned impacts are significant. Also, the results of this assessment provide quantitative information on the dynamic wind forces on building elements and the structural engineer could use such information to design a structurally stable building.

Architectural Report: This report contains basic architectural drawings and the justification on the selection of certain architectural features for the building. It explains the professional concept behind the selected architectural form and how the building addresses the client’s objectives, without impacting the comforts and lives of general public. The external features of the building should be suitable for the existing built-environment of the locality. This report is viewed in conjunction with the Visualisation Report.

Visualisation Report: When a building is “planted” in a suburb, sometimes it could be seen from distance depending on the location. Hence, architects would model the locality first and then, show how the new building appears from different angles and at different distances. It is very interesting how this is graphically presented. A series of views is shown the locality without the new building and suddenly the next view would show how the new building emerges like a mushroom. When this is presented like a slideshow, sometimes the viewers are shocked by the visual impact created by the proposed building and often it leads to vehement complaints in terms of visual pollution. 

Reflectivity Assessment Report: This is the external glare study done to determine the impact of façade solar reflections on to roads and existing buildings. This report would give how many daylight hours would be there with conditions such as imperceptible, uncomfortable, boarder line between comfort and discomfort and intolerable, due to the building. Also it talks about the disability glare which impairs a person’s vision of objects and details and the discomfort glare which causes discomfort but not necessarily impair one’s vision of objects and details.

Regulatory Compliance Report: This report explains how the building has been designed by the engineers and architects in compliance with the Building Regulations and the Building Code of Australia. All modern buildings are to be compliant with universal accessibility requirements as well. This means the building should be accessible by anyone in society including kids, elderly and people with disabilities without any discrimination. .

CPTED Report: CPTED stands for Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. The CPTED report provides the assessment details which could be used to improve the building design and the design of the surrounded area to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. The design of a proposed development is assessed against the four key CPTED principles which are Surveillance, Access Control, Space/Activity Management and Territorial reinforcement. As the public feel safer to use well supervised places, the surveillance could be achieved by natural features and mechanical means. Access controls can be incorporated into the design by physical barriers, good way finding signage, etc. Space and activity management are to be incorporated by allowing all spaces are equally used and maintained. Territorial reinforcement arrangements would give space ownership to the users and they will feel safe. 

Acoustic Report: Sometimes, this report is presented as a part of Environmental Assessment Report. This study would present, all noise levels generated from the proposed building during construction and during commissioning and ongoing operation of the building. Sometimes the recommendations come out from this reports would force engineers to adopt different construction methods and select alternative plant and equipment which generate less noise.

Sustainability Report: Developer should incorporate sustainability measures to the proposed building as a responsible citizen. The building must be designed by incorporating energy efficiency and water saving features. Also the construction material must be selected encouraging the use of material produced by deploying less carbon emission methods.

Waste Management Report: Any development project would generate waste. Hence, the development should be designed to maximise the resources recovery, encourage source separation of waste, reuse and recycle of waste and also to have responsible waste storage and disposal facilities during operational phase of the building. This report must recommend suitable actions to minimise waste disposal at landfill sites.

Traffic Report: New building development would impact negatively on the existing local traffic. New developments would trigger traffic congestions on the adjoining roads unless it is managed by introduction of new traffic management devices as well as by providing adequate on-site parking. This report outlines the recommended actions. The developer has to bear the cost of structural changes of traffic management systems on nearby roads.

 

Conclusion

Sri Lankan public deserves the best of the information when a private or public development project is implemented nearby. The aforementioned reports produced by the Australian developers are common reports and all reports may not be applicable to a specific project. The most important requirement is that the information outlined under each of above report must be available somehow for the public. 

Further, the above reports are interrelated. The information and the recommendations must be looked at holistically. The writer’s question is whether the Sri Lankan development regulators are ready to force developers to ensure transparent and complete project information is available for public scrutiny. If they could ensure it happens, the good news is that all developers, the regulators and the public would be benefited in the long run.

(Eng. Janaka Seneviratne is a Chartered Professional Engineer, a Fellow and an International Professional Engineer of both the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka and Australia. He holds two Masters Degrees in Local Government Engineering and in Engineering Management and at present, works for the Australian NSW Local Government Sector. His mission is to share his 32 years of local and overseas experience to inspire Sri Lankan professionals. He is contactable via senevir15@gmail.com.)


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