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Prime Minister Imran Khan last week presented to tbe nation his vision to manage the housing needs of the growing population in cities while safeguarding the green areas, play-grounds and ambience of cities by growing vertically through high-rise buildings.

He decided to make the start from Islamabad to preserve its ambience and reputation of a green city.

Most significant aspect of it is that high rises can now be constructed in all commercial areas of the capital without requiring a 'no-objection certificate' (NOC) from the CDA or CAA. By doing so, the Prime Minister has challenged the decades long culture of NOCs which has been growing rapidly.

Such culture is largely driven by the government departments' quest to maintain their relevance and regulatory role which is of little advantage to the government, but pose numerous problems to investors/builders in terms of project delays and costs, as each NOC means a lot of documentation and running-around. Often speed money is the preferable mode for a majority to go around it.

In DHA, Karachi, the builder of a residential house has to secure around seven (7) NOCs at different stages of completion. Likewise, granting NOC by CAA and CDA to permit the construction of a high rise, on a case-to-case basis, is the beginning of the process of multiple NOCs which an investor or builder has to secure till completion of the project; at each stage he is checkmated by delays and costs.

In case of Islamabad high rises, all CAA is required to do is to identify and make transparent the 'red zone' to be kept free from high rises and CDA has to set standards and specifications for all to comply with and final approval of compliance of the same by the builder/investor on completion of the building with any deviation to the same to be corrected/dismantled at the risk and cost of the investor or builder. The onus of compliance should rest with the builder/investor.

While the decision of the Prime Minister has merit in balancing the housing needs and environment, there are many challenges and concerns which need to be addressed to make the PM's vision workable and sustainable.

The foremost point to be understood is that the high-rise building industry is largely managed by builders and investors driven by greed for big money and big profits to influence their way through controls and regulations and subject buyers to their dictates. This mindset is prevalent worldwide and Pakistan is no exception.

Countries with strong regulations and enforcement of the same keep the builders in line but in countries where the same is missing or compromise builders have their way.

Karachi is a bad example of exponential mushrooming of high rises in the last one decades, where driven by greed and flow of big money, great residential neighbourhoods after neighbourhoods were commercialised to give way to high rises and in tbe process playgrounds, parks, public amenities areas and similar were usurped, transforming the once great city of Karachi into a huge concrete jungle. The latest Supreme Court verdict has helped retrieve some part of the usurped land.

The other concern is the challenge to provide multiple utilities and services at high-rise complexes. The Supreme Court imposed a ban on high rises in Karachi for the reason that the builders failed to provide utilities and services to high-rise complexes; they, infact sought to draw services from the already burdened infrastructure of the city government. Lately, this ban has been lifted.

The success stories in this regard are those housed in a walled complex with in-house availability of security, utilities and services. Also, high-rise buildings and high-density complexes are housed in allocated area which is always a certain and well thought out percentage of the master plan so that residential housing neighbourhoods, high-rise buildings, play grounds and park flourish side by side in a well-balanced configuration.

To encourage the growth of high-rise buildings in Pakistan a lot of work has to be done in terms of standards and specifications, city demographics, environment safeguards and city ambience failing which mushroom growth of high-rise buildings in Islamabad will be no different from that in Karachi.

(The writer is former President - Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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