LAHORE: Despite the fact the government has already earmarked a vast area comprising over 2,000 kanals in the central business district -- Gulberg, Ferozepur Road and Walton Road – for the construction of high-rises, to encourage vertical growth of the city, some bigwigs in the Punjab government seem desperate to revise the Government Area Housing Scheme (GAHS)-2006 (amended) and relax rules to allow construction of a 30-storey commercial-cum-residential building in the area where no structure beyond 90-foot height is allowed as per bylaws.
The project is being launched by a powerful business tycoon on a piece of land measuring about 17 kanals at China Chowk (Racecourse Road), in the vicinity of important buildings like the Governor House, provincial office of an institution of strategic nature, GOR-1 etc in an areas that is considered Lahore’s Red Zone, Dawn has learnt.
“We are surprised why this is being done with such an urgency? For instance, if the rules are relaxed to allow construction of a 332-foot high building, the value of a plot in the area will suddenly shoot up to almost 15 times higher than the existing price (Rs10 billion to 150bn). Moreover, it will also pave way for other such ventures in such a sensitive area,” an official source privy to the development told Dawn.
“When the government has already allowed such skyscrapers in the controlled area of the central business district/central business district development authority and the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project under regulations of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), why efforts are being made to allow such constructions in the high-security zone of the city,” he wondered.
Wasa, Tepa and LDA objected to the plan
According to a plan submitted to the quarters concerned, a private builder plans construction of a commercial-cum-apartment building allegedly owned by a leading business tycoon on a plot measuring 16 kanals, 15 marlas and 31-Sft (75406-Sft) with total covered area of 1136258-Sft (property Khasra No.15611/47/1, Khatoni No 5876 in Mouza Mozang, Lahore).
As per provisions of the amended master plan for Lahore Division, the site for the proposed project falls in Residential Land-Use Zone. However, the Race Course Road is included in the List “A” (approved road for commercialisation). However, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) approved commercialisation of the instant property on payment of a fee amounting to Rs108.894 million without considering the provisions of relevant laws, rules & regulations of the GAHS-2006. Under provisions of the amended master plan of GHAS-2006, the site falls in 2-kanal residential zone.
After receiving an application in March 2019, the authorities concerned in the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation raised objections to the plan in April, 2019, followed by another application from the builder company submitted to the parent department the same month.
The department sought comments from the corporation also the same month, which were sent to it in May.
Taking action, the department constituted a committee that sought sending of a summary to the chief minister and the cabinet committee. The committee held its first meeting in March, last year. The cabinet committee constituted another committee in August, last year, that had met twice so far on this issue.
According to another document, the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD) also submitted an application with the Punjab chief secretary on April 7, this year, appreciating the vision of flourishing the construction industry and housing sector and to boost vertical growth of the city. In the application the ABAD chairman described the history of the GAHS with respect to its notification and legal status. He stated that in the current scenario of vertical expansion of residential units as per the prime minister’s vision, there was a need to revise GAHS limits for land’s optimum utilisation within its current radius. On the basis of these arguments, the chairman requested that 1,200-foot radius from perimeter wall of the Governor House might be marked and the remaining area be excluded from this scheme.
A high-level committee has already been constituted to deliberate on this issue. During its first meeting held in August, last year, the committee, according to the document, directed the chief corporation officer (CCO) and metropolitan officer (planning) to carry out a field survey of the land use and height of buildings within the existing boundary of the GAHS.
It also decided to examine status of the built-up area on ground to decide whether some parts of the land could be reclassified as commercial area/business zone, keeping in view their location and economic potential. The meeting’s participants emphasised upon the importance and conservation of green open spaces within the GHAS.
During the meeting, the officers concerned were further directed to divide the GAHS into the four zones to conduct requisite survey through the satellite imagery. The zones included Zone-A (area bounded by Shahrah-e-Awan-e-Tijarat, The Mall, Queens Road and Lawrence Road), Zone-B (area bounded by Shahrah-e-Awan-e-Tijarat, Jail Road, Canal Bank Road and The Mall), Zone-C (area bounded by Canal Bank Road, Sundar Das Road, Davis Road and The Mall) and Zone-D (area bounded by The Mall, Egerton Road, Abbot Road, Empress Road, Durand Road and Sundar Das Road and any other remaining area).
In pursuance of the committee’s decisions, a survey was conducted with respect to existing land use and height of buildings within the existing GAHS area. On the basis of the survey data, the MCL proposed a revised map of the GAHS, taking into consideration the ABAD chairman proposal, by reducing the GAHS jurisdiction by around 1,200 feet from the outer wall of the Governor House along the existing roads for effective enforcement. With this proposed amendment, the GAHS boundary was from Faisal Chowk, along Queens Road to Lawrence Road to Race Course Road (from China Chowk to Children Complex Library) to Link Club Road to Club Chowk, then from Club Chowk to Sundardas Road (along road from Aitcheson College, dividing residences of the principal and others from the college) to Mayo Garden to Durand Road along Queens Marry College to Shimla Pahari and then along Egerton Road up to Faisal Chowk. The land use provisions and other by-laws of the GHAS would remain the same, it was proposd.
According to the minutes of a meeting held last month, presided over by a minister, regarding the GAHS-2006, the participants unanimously decided that the Lahore deputy commissioner (DC), in coordination with the CCO, shall conduct a comprehensive security audit of the proposal regarding fixing the limits of GAHS at 300 meters approximately from the outer boundary of the Governor House and submit a report to the committee at the earliest to proceed further.
According to another source, the quarters concerned were of the view that the character of an area should be assessed before allowing such a huge project. And if it falls under controlled building area (CBD), the government may formally notify and hand it over to the CBD Authority (recently established for this purpose in case of Lahore) for infrastructure upgrade, instead of allowing skyscrapers without any prior planning of the area.
“The project falls in the notified area, GAHS, where such height was not permissible due to security and other reasons, including the preservation of the sanctity and unique character of the area,” he said. “Actually it is a matter of height as well as GAHS-2006 (amended) under which such buildings cannot be allowed. The prevailing bylaws, rules/regulations of the LDA that were also adopted by the MCL allow on such a road only up to 90-foot high structures. That is why the efforts are being made to exclude this area from the GAHS first and then relax the rules imposing 90-foot height restriction to allow construction up to 332 feet,” the source claimed, citing example of the Rawalpindi Ring Road where rules and laws were changed to facilitate the developers.
Since Lahore DC, commissioner, MCL administrator and the CCO were not available for comments despite calls made by this reporter, the Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency (Tepa) Chief Engineer Abdul Razaq Chauhan, who has attended a meeting last month being member of the committee, said the LDA, Tepa and Wasa opposed the construction of the skyscrapers.
“Wasa says it will overburden the water supply and sewerage system. We (Tepa) are of the view that it would cause traffic congestion on the nearby roads, while the LDA pointed out that the present bylaws don’t allow construction up to such a height,” he added.