Govt. gives go-ahead to Port City

Friday, 6 February 2015 00:47 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • PM Ranil Wickremesinghe finds lost EIA and submits to Cabinet
  • Reprieve for much maligned largest-ever foreign investment project
  • Second EIA needed for Phase II construction including golf course and F1 track
  • India raised no official objection, Sirisena likely to visit China in March+

An excavator (right) being used at the site of the planned Port City project in Fort yesterday. The project is likely to be made active yet again - Pic by Shehan Gunasekera

By Uditha Jayasinghe After weeks of uncertainty the new Government yesterday gave the green light for the mega $ 1.4 billion China funded port city project. Ending speculation, the new Cabinet, barely a month in office, allowed the project to continue after perusing an environmental assessment study conducted by a local university. The port city was a major item in the joint Opposition campaign at Presidential poll whilst severe warnings were issued after the victory of Maithripala Sirisena as well. However, judging by yesterday’s Cabinet decision, almost akin to a U-turn, it appears that the much maligned port city project is back in the water. “We are satisfied with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done by the Moratuwa University,” Cabinet spokesman and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne told reporters, adding that a second EIA would be needed to assess construction once reclamation of land from the sea was completed. “There is time for that,” he said. “Funding is by the Chinese company so we see no reason why it cannot go ahead.” Multinational China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) subsidiary the China Harbour Engineering Company is creating the new island off Colombo’s harbour, which was started during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade in power. However, presidential elections last month saw the removal of Rajapaksa and the appointment of his former Cabinet member President Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena subsequently appointed a 27-member Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who had earlier warned that the port city project would be scrapped if it failed to meet environmental standards. This prompted the project promoter to issue a press statement setting the record straight. Despite that criticism allegations persisted. A follow up full page paid advertisement was also published. Known to be the single largest investment project in Sri Lanka, the port city will also have Sri Lanka’s first 100-storey skyscraper under Phase II of its work. This phase would include the construction of hotels, shopping malls, a golf course as well as a F1 track. The site is on 233 hectares of reclaimed land along the iconic coastline of Colombo. Under the proposed deal, 108 hectares would be given to the Chinese firm, including 20 hectares on an outright basis and the rest on a 99-year lease. However, ownership of land by foreigners is illegal in Sri Lanka and Dr. Senaratne acknowledged that the Government would have to “look into” proprietorship details. “At the moment foreign companies can only hold land on a lease basis up to 99 years. As far as we can ascertain the State does not own this land as its being reclaimed by the Chinese company. We will rectify the shortcomings,” he said. Dr. Senaratne also insisted that no concerns had been officially raised by the Indian Government and Sirisena would likely visit China after overseeing a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March. Over the past month CHEC ramped up advertising about the project insisting it would put a spotlight on Sri Lanka by positioning the island as the ultimate “Gateway to South Asia” and strengthen tourist arrivals over the next 30 years. They also insisted an initial Technical Feasibility Study and environmental assessment of the project was made by the University of Moratuwa in 2010, appointed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), and later approved by government agencies. Construction since December also blitzed along with the size of the reclamation almost doubling in a short span of time.