Sunday, March 22, 2009

"God's own country" to rework State plan....

The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), Kerala chapter, has called for revision of the State master plan prepared two decades back.

In view of certain serious land development issues facing the State at present and considering the minimum land available for development, especially in towns and cities, we have no other option but to go for vertical development, says the IIA in a representation to the State’s ministers and the departmental heads concerned.

In the representation, the the IIA Chairman, Mr Jose K. Mathew, points out that it is time the State emulated cities such as New York, Singapore and Tokyo, where the situation is very similar. Like in Kerala, the land for development is scarce and the density of population is high.

The representation was made in the backdrop of the State Government’s move to amend the Kerala building regulations and FAR (floor area ratio) calculations. It is pointed out that unlike its neighbouring States, Kerala is very different.

“Considering the topography of the land, we have to protect and conserve our backwaters, our forestland, our coastlines, our paddy fields, our wetlands and marshy land, which makes Kerala unique and God’s Own Country,” the representation said, adding that the land available for the development after protecting Kerala’s unique features is comparatively low compared to other neighbouring States where there is vast expanse of land for development.

Besides, the density of population in the State is very high.
It is hard to find 100 acres of land in one stretch. Meanwhile the State cannot afford to ignore and abandon the existing road network and its width, and design new roads to match the road widths of the neighbouring States, notwithstanding the fact that there is need to improve the quality and width of the existing roads and, the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the market demand and the market forces cannot be ignored, says the representation, adding that “if we make a policy decision to develop horizontally, what we need to protect and conserve will be covered by buildings before long, irrespective of whatever rules or regulations or amendments we make.”

In view of these facts, the representation urges the Government to increase FAR in Kerala similar to Singapore and New York, but with adequate infrastructure development, both physical (roads, communication, sewage, drainage, electricity, etc.) and social (schools, hospitals, public facilities, etc). “Otherwise, going vertical will be disaster,” the IIA cautions.

Regarding road widths, the representation suggests additional setbacks, in addition to the mandatory setback of land abutting the streets if the roads do not meet the required width, so that these can be used to widen the existing roads.

Some of the factors that should be considered while making changes in building regulations include the rapid advancement in building technology, scarcity of natural and man-made building materials, spiralling fuel and power supply costs which warrant accommodation in close proximity to workplaces, effective waste management, and eco-friendly, green buildings and towns.

The representation says that it is time the Government constituted an expert committee consisting of town planners, practising architects, sociologists, environmentalists, etc., and brought out a relevant master plan of Kerala, which will be in tune with the times.

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