Regional Planning in Sri Lanka

Australian planners – helping to rebuild a nation!

'PIA's work in Sri Lanka is a clear demonstration of what planning is really about. It has the potential to make a genuine difference in people's quality of life, their ability to sustain a livelihood and in restoring the natural environment. Their planning issues are far cry from some of the seemingly trivial matters that our planners can find themselves entangled within in Australia.

For Australian planners an international experience is a great opportunity to broaden your mind, hone your skills, and reinvigorate your sense of what planning is really all about.’

– Kirsty Kelly, Chief Executive Officer, Planning Institute Australia

For almost a decade, Sri Lankan and Australian planners have been collaborating on the development of the planning profession in Sri Lanka. The collaboration took a new direction after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, when expertise delivered through international partnerships highlighted the valuable contribution to be made by good quality urban planning in preventing unsafe urban development in seaside communities.

Watch this short film to hear perspectives from Australian planners and their Sri Lankan counterparts. More recently, the end of long-term civil conflict presented new opportunities for Australian planning professionals to support regional planning in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka. These regional plans will respond to the needs of communities impacted by the conflict and take advantage of the growing level of interest from the public and private sectors locally and internationally.

Planning for regional growth

Over the past two years, PIA has assisted the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD) to undertake regional planning, through a partnership with the Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD), Planning Institute Australia (PIA) and Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka (ITPSL). The Regional Planning in Sri Lanka project received funding from AusAID through the Asia Public Sector Linkages Program.

Group international

Australian and Sri Lankan planners developed a regional plan for the Northern Province, including extensive field and desk-based research into the region and wide ranging consultation with government, private sector and non-government organisations. Alongside this plan, the project team also worked on a detailed plan for the Mullaittivu township and coastal stretch adjacent to the Mullaittivu Lagoon.

The Northern Province Regional Plan

The Northern Province Regional Plan was developed in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Amendment Act No. 49 and is aligned to and will deliver on the recently gazetted National Physical Plan. The Northern Province Regional Plan is built around the vision that by 2030:

‘The Northern Province will be a safe and healthy, prosperous, culturally rich, and sustainable region with a network of well-serviced and accessible urban centres which are well-connected to each other, to their markets and to the rest of the country.’

The following five strategies have been developed to deliver this vision:

  • Sustainable Economic Development and Growth (Needithirukum Samudhayam), to provide opportunities for meaningful employment, livelihoods and investment that are created through thriving, diverse and sustainable economies.
  • Physical Infrastructure - Connecting the Region (Orunkinintha Piranthium), to connect people, towns and villages through effective transportation and communication networks across the Province, the rest of Sri Lanka, and the world.
  • Settlement Pattern: Sustainable and Liveable Communities (Arokiyamana Samudhayam), to improve the appearance, accessibility and amenity of settlements within the Northern Province to create vibrant and safe places to live, work and visit.
  • Water, Sanitation and Irrigation (Anithu Thavaikalukumana Neer), to collect, distribute and reticulate water provincial wide for domestic, agricultural and industrial use. Sanitation including engineering solutions, simple technologies and personal hygiene practices to be promoted and provided across the province.
  • Environmental Management and Conservation (Enakamana Sullal), to protect, restore and enhance the natural environment to ensure the unique biodiversity of the Northern Province is maintained alongside long-term sustainable development.

The Northern Province Regional Plan is informed by a comprehensive background report, including a regional development data set. This new data set will be valuable in underpinning future planning by NPPD and other stakeholders, and the cross-agency collaboration, survey and fieldwork techniques developed by the Sri Lankan planners will be applicable in many aspects of their daily work.

The Mullaittivu Coastal Settlement Strategy complements the Northern Province Regional Plan, identifying significant cultural and environmental assets and providing guidance for sustainable settlement growth and tourist development based on disaster risk reduction principles.

Each of these documents has been completed to final draft stage, for presentation to stakeholders and approval through internal government processes. Once approved, success in delivering the Northern Province Regional Plan will require commitment and cooperation from across Government at all three levels (National, Provincial and Local) as well as across business interests and the community.


Engagement of the Sri Lankan planners in developing the data sets and drafting the Northern Province Regional Plan and the sub regional plan for Mullaittivu exposed them to new approaches to research, data collection and analysis methods. Sri Lankan planners learnt new ways to apply their research spatially to develop regional strategy plans at differing scales.


The Australian planners also brought new approaches to learning, including stakeholder engagement activities and a series of site-based urban walks. Read more about these walks in this article in Planning News by Anne Donovan and Katherine Davis.

Australian planners also participated in the everyday work of NPPD, providing advice and input on plans to develop new metropolitan regions in the north, east and south of Sri Lanka. This work builds on earlier input from Australian planners through the Post-Tsunami Reconstruction Project, which considered the development of growth areas away from the vulnerable coastline.

What’s next?

Beyond the Regional Planning in Sri Lanka project, PIA is exploring how we can continue our efforts to build capacity in the profession across both of our nations. Over the next few years, new areas of activity may include economic development and infrastructure at a local level, climate change adaptation and management of related risks, urban design, and planning for people with disabilities.

As Sri Lanka experiences rapid growth and development, we hope that planning will take a starring role. PIA will be well-placed to support the growth of the Sri Lankan planning profession and to provide opportunities for planners in Australia and Sri Lanka to share knowledge, skills and experience.

Through the long-term partnership between ITPSL and PIA, it is likely that Australian planners will continue to have opportunities to share their skills and knowledge with Sri Lankan colleagues and to contribute to long-term planning of this island nation.

  • Contact PIA today
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