Institute of Town Planners, Sri Lanka – A Brief Note on its Evolution

Plnr. Hemantha K. Jayasundera
Past President of ITPSL

The role of cities in the past was limited to providing social and economic services to their hinterlands, particularly when countries practiced “closed economic policies”. The situation in Sri Lanka was typical of that nature as it had a low level of urbanization compared to other developing countries. All the successive governments had invested heavily in agriculture and irrigation. Further, free health and education were provided covering the entire country up to higher education level and large-scale industries were established throughout the country away from main urban centers. All such interventions made rural to urban migration not required and insignificant. The role of cities in national economies began to realize in the early 70s, particularly with the Singapore experience. Thus, the 1970-77 Government sought the assistance of UNDP towards establishing a new urban system to take advantage of urbanization in national economic development, which resulted in the development of the Colombo Master Plan, and initial background work for establishing Urban Development Authority (UDA). Producing Urban Planners within the country was initiated in 1973 after establishing the Department of Town and Country Planning under the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture of the Moratuwa University (then Katubedda Campus of the University of Sri Lanka).

The Government, in 1977, while expediting the Colombo Master Plan preparation, established the UDA. While changing the national economic development policies from “close” to “open”, it changed the fiscal policies to attract Foreign Direct Investment and private sector participation in economic development processes. The creation of Free Trade Zones (FTZ) and the Accelerated Mahaweli Development program became other two Government interventions that resulted in visible growth in urban development. Town and Country Panning Postgraduates produced by the Moratuwa University were mostly recruited to three institutions, namely Urban Development Authority (UDA), Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) which is now known as Board of Investment, and Mahaweli Development Authority (MDA).

By the early 1980s, the growing young profession needed to found Town Planners’ Institute to acquire professional status and recognition. Professor Nevil Gooneratne and Professor Willie Mendis – the pioneers of Town and Country Planning Education in Sri Lanka spearheaded the establishment of the Institute of Town Planners, Sri Lanka (ITPSL) also in 1982, which was incorporated as the Act No.23 by the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 1986 providing the profession with legal status. Professor Nevil Gunarathne became the first President of the ITPSL, followed by Professor Willie Mendis.

The institute, at its inception, carefully designed its objectives which are still valid after 40 years of its existence:

  • To promote and advance the science and art of Town Planning.
  • To raise and uphold the dignity and reputation of the town panning profession in Sri Lanka.
  • To establish linkages with town panning institutions in other countries.
  • To make available a professional opinion in town planning to the Government and other agencies.
  • To promote and regulate the work of the Town Planning profession as a practice or is likely to be practiced in Sri Lanka.
  • To promote the aesthetic, economic, scientific, and social development of urban and rural areas in the best interest of the community.

During the 40 years of its history, the institute had nineteen Presidents, as listed below:

1. Archt./ Plnr. (Prof.)Nevilie Gunerathne 1982 (Interim)
2. Archt./ Plnr P.N. Wijesinghe 1982 -1983 (Interim)
3. Eng./ Plnr. (Prof.) Willie Mendis 1983 – 1989
4. Plnr. S.W.P. Bulankulame 1989 – 1991
5. Plnr. N.D. Dickson 1991 – 1993
6. Plnr. (Prof). A.L.S. Perera 1993 – 1995
7. Plnr. Neil G. Karunarhatne 1995 – 1997
8. Archt./ Plnr. Deshabandu Surath Wickramasinghe 1997 – 1999
9. Archt./ Plnr. Dr. Locana Gunarathne 1999 – 2001
10. Plnr. J.M.L. Jayasekera 2001 – 2003
11. Plnr. W.A. Siriwardena 2003 – 2005
12. Plnr. K.D. Fernando 2005 – 2007
13. Plnr. A.V.G.C. Karunathilake 2007 – 2009
14. Plnr. L.D. Dickman 2009 – 2011
15. Plnr. Hemantha K. Jayasundera 2011 – 2013
16. Prof. Plnr. P.K.S. Mahanama 2013 – 2015
17. Plnr. (Ms.) Indu Weerasoori 2015 – 2017
18. Plnr. Piyal Silva 2017 – 2019
19. Archt./ Plnr. (Prof.) Jagath Munasinghe 2019 – 2021
20. Plnr. (Ms.) Devsriyani Jayasundera 2021 – 2023 (Current)

Initially, the university produced only postgraduates. However, the numbers produced could not meet the demand for Town Planners in the country. Thus, in 2003 the university introduced a four-year undergraduate degree program in Town and Country Planning, a major breakthrough. The employment opportunities for Town and Country Planning graduates expanded, covering the public sector, private sector, and international institutions. From the inception of ITPSL, its members found foreign employment, too, particularly in UN agencies.

During this period, the institute acquired remarkable achievements, some of which are:

  • International CAP conference in 1986 that established the ITPSLs’ presence in the global urban planning community.
  • Preparation of Rules of ITPSL in 1987.
  • Acquisition of a valuable piece of land in Colombo 07 on Sarana Mawatha, behind the BMICH for ITPSL headquarters building on 99-year lease basis from the UDA. (Survey Plan was prepared in 1992, Formal approval was granted by His Excellency the President in 1993).
  • Relocation of ten households lived in the ITPSL project site illegally – five families were relocated to NHDA housing scheme in 2002 and later the balance five families to Sidharthapura NHDA housing scheme, Kirulapone and making the site free of encumbrances. Deed was obtained in 2003.
  • Two days conference on “Role of Sea Ports in National Economic Development” with the participation of international seaport development experts and the submission of its proceedings to the Government (22nd and 23rd June 1998).
  • Establishment of Centre for Urban and Regional Planning (CURP) as its training arm in 2001.
  • Consultancy to National Enterprise Development Authority of the Ministry of Industries and Commerce for development of “Spatial Information Database for the wood-based activities in Moratuwa, and Cane based activities in Weweldeniya”.
  • Establishment of Young Planners Forum, 2004.
  • Establishment of Town Planning firms.
  • Conference on “Aftermath of Tsunami – A Window of Opportunity for Planned Development”, 4th and 5th March 2005, that paved the way to establish relationship with Planning Institute of Australia (PIA).
  • Established a strong relationship between the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) and ITPSL and implementation of Post Tsunami Planning Support Project under the financial assistance of Aus Aid and Australian Red Cross. The project provided on the job training to over 40 Sri Lankan Planners in Australia 2006.
  • Naming the Ellakattuwa Road from Isurumuniya Clock Tower to German Bridge in Anuradhapura after Architect /Planner Oliver Weerasinghe, the first Town Planner, who planned Anuradhapura New Town 2006.
  • Grand celebration of Silver Jubilee of ITPSL– 2007.
  • Publication of “Colombo Living High – A City in Transition”, written by Plnr. Nirmala Herath, and Plnr. Devsriyani Jayasundera, Published by the Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka, December 2007.
  • Establishment of professional practice Examination (Part III), 2011.
  • Reclamation of the institutes’ head office building site 2011.
  • Consultancy of Lolugaswewa” New township project, Anuradhapura 2015.
  • Establishment of Higher Diploma in Urban Planning program (Part II), 2017.
  • Professor Willie Mendis receiving the “Vidya Jothi” award in 2017 – the highest level of national honor awarded for outstanding scientific and technological achievements.
  • Publication of “Town Planning in Sri Lanka” written by Plnr. N.D. Dickson, Launched by ITPSL, 2017.
  • Re-commenced construction of the headquarters building in 2019.
  • Consultancy to World Bank in collaboration with Design Advocacy for the preparation of curriculum for Urban Planning and Urban Design degree program for Afghan Universities that provided Rs.10.5 million – the seed capital for the construction of the headquarters building 2020.
  • Holding the AGM in its own building on Sarana Mawatha, Colombo 7, as a hybrid event in March 2021.
  • Winner of the Social Innovation Grand Challenge , the Consultancy on “Human Settlements Simulator for Creating Urban Resilience” for Asian Preparedness Partnership – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, May – October 2021.
  • Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), Outstanding Young Planner Award Finalist – Ms.Tania Munasinghe (YPF Member) 6th October 2021.

To manage the executive council matters of the institute smoothly, it establishes several working committees. Currently, the council has eight Standing Committees namely, (i) Professional Affairs Board, (ii) Membership, and Disciplinary Matters Committee, (iii) International Relations Committee, (iv) Board of Resource Management, (v) Board of Education, (vi) Research and Publication Board, (vii) Centre for Urban and Regional Planning, (viii) Administration, Fund Raising, and Welfare Committee. To manage the administrative functions, the institute has employed two full-time staff, and currently, the office functions at the CHPB building in Pelawatta, Battaramulla. It plans to move to its new head office building by the beginning of 2022.

“ITPSL – Face the Future with Confidence”.