Drone footage of the project's four dredgers.
CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd
  • Sri Lanka is building a new metropolis with a $1.4 billion (R20 billion) Chinese investment. 
  • By the time it is completed in 2041, the project could cost around $15 billion (R223 billion).
  • At almost 270 hectares, the Port City development could eventually double the size of the nation's capital.

Sri Lanka's $1.4 billion ( R20 billion) Port City development has elicited parallels to a number of major urban centre. At 269 hectares, the project is about the same size as central London, but its design resembles cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai.

A decade ago, the idea of a Sri Lankan city that rivalled the world's leading financial hubs seemed implausible. From 1983 to 2009, the nation was ravaged by a brutal civil war between its military and an insurgent group called the Tamil Tigers. By the end of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of civilians had been killed and the city had spent more than $200 billion (R2 trillion) on war costs. 

Less than ten years later, the nation has devised a plan for bringing jobs and economic opportunity to its capital city, Colombo. Through the development of a new metropolis inside the capital, officials estimate that Colombo could eventually double in size. Already, Colombo is the most populous city in Sri Lanka, with around 750,000 residents in its urban core. 

Though the concept of Port City originated in 2004, its plans were delayed until after the war. Around that time, Sri Lanka saw an influx of Chinese investment, which the country put toward major infrastructure improvements. The partnership ran into trouble when Sri Lanka had difficulty repaying its debt, while China was accused of using its investments to wield political influence. 

In 2014, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe suspended the Port City project, citing concerns about damage to the coastline. This angered the project's investor, China Communications Construction Company, which claimed to be losing $380,000 (R5 million) a day while the development was in limbo. By 2016, the plan was back in motion with a new set of environmental protections.

According to the site's developer, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the project is still on track to complete its reclamation efforts and the first phase of infrastructure by 2020. Port City is set to be finished in 2041, at which point its costs could reach $15 billion (R223 billion). 

Here's what it might look like in the future. 

To build the city, developers are using dredgers to gather up sand from the bottom of the ocean.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

CHEC ultimately plans to add 65 million cubic metres of sand along the shore.

Environmental groups have raised concerns about the destruction of aquatic life, which could damage the livelihood of local fishermen. But developers contend that dredging won't pose a threat.

Drone footage of Colombo.
CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

CHEC recently obtained a permit that allows it to dredge 5 kilometres from the coastline and only at depths at or below 15 metres. The organisation is also prohibited from dredging in areas near reef habitats or fishing grounds.  To account for the economic cost to local fishermen, the company has set aside nearly $7 million (R104 million) to be distributed among fishing associations over the course of three years. 

Developers have completed more than 90% of their reclamation efforts, putting them on track to finish by June 2019.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

The project has received a $1.4 billion (R20 billion) investment, but the sand itself could cost more than double that amount.

Colombo International Financial Centre
CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

Colombo's Centre for Environmental Justice estimates that the development will require around 100 million cubic metres of sand, worth around $3.2 billion (R47 billion).

The financial district features high-quality office space, a shopping plaza, and a cultural park.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

A "central park" borders the main canal, providing space for outdoor recreation and events.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

The entire development features 44 hectares of public parks and 120 hectares for recreation and water sports.

Building heights decrease in the direction of prevailing winds and waterfronts, allowing for increased air circulation within the city.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

The city is designed specifically for residential and commercial use — no industrial activities are allowed.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

According to development officials, other planned projects in Sri Lanka will satisfy the need for industrial space. 

Transit developments and walkways will connect residents to local landmarks like Galle Face Beach, Beira Lake, and Viharamabedevi Park.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

The city is expected to host around 80,000 residents and 250,000 daily commuters.

CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

It could be also be governed by its own legal system.

An aerial rendering of Port City
CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd

The system is still being discussed, and will require approval from Sri Lanka's parliament and council of ministers.

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