What’s up with Lahore's new building regulations?

The LDA is putting the cart before the horse and ramming it into Lahore.

Updated 16 Oct, 2019 07:07pm

In a tweet in March earlier this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the cities of Pakistan must grow vertically in order to preserve our green spaces and reduce sprawl. Although well intentioned, Khan is neither an architect nor a city planner. His simplistic view of how to reduce sprawl in our cities does not come as a surprise.

Urban sprawl is a problem for its unsustainable consumption of land, extensive and costly transportation infrastructure, increased private vehicle use and poor pedestrian experience, all which eventually take a toll on public health. One of the methods of reducing sprawl may be vertical development but if done in isolation without accounting for a city’s unique cultural and economic context, it has the dangerous potential of further increasing the divide between the rich and the poor.

High-rise buildings require skill, technical expertise and building materials that are not always available locally. In a time when the economy is trying to rid itself of imports, high-rise buildings are not a solution to our problem. In a time where housing shortage exists primarily within the middle- and lower-income classes, high-rise buildings risk primarily catering to the rich. Much like the houses in our elite gated communities, they risk remaining unoccupied, to be used as pawns in the game of real estate speculation.

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Simpler ways of reducing sprawl include redesigning city blocks, particularly in urban centres, keeping them compact and allowing a variety of building typologies and uses within them. Conscious efforts to reduce car use, along with significant investments in public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure, are required.

These include taking stringent measures to discourage private vehicles in congested urban centres, enforcing the installation of wide contiguous footpaths, trees, benches and bus bays along all roads, implementing strict timings for freight vehicles, imposing fines and penalties for improper parking, providing adequate parking space near transit stops and having an almost war-like attitude against signal-free corridors and road widening.

Wider roads invite a higher number of cars, which in turn demand wider roads; it is a dangerous cycle. Moreover, car dependency means longer distances are travelled in lesser time, which further encourages cities to sprawl.

Therefore, in response to the prime ministers tweet, what the development authorities across the country should have done is provide comprehensive technical advice on how urban sprawl can be combatted and densities increased. Instead, the Lahore Development Authority, for example, geared its horses and prepared draft building bylaws to reflect exactly what Khan had stated in his tweet: vertical development.

The revision of the buildings regulations at this stage is highly problematic. Firstly, it is important to note that regulations are a means of implementing an official master plan in the city. A master plan is finalised after extensive consultations, data collection and research and stakeholder engagement. In Lahore particularly, where multiple departments are involved in the process of city development, a master plan must also address all the various plans, policies and strategies pertaining to the city.

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Currently, Lahore's master plan is undergoing considerable reviews and is not yet finalised. The afforestation movement in the city, a collaboration between the Commissioners office, the Lahore Biennale Foundation and the Lahore Conservation Society, begs the need for a formal urban forest policy. The Planning and Development Department’s Urban Unit is on the verge of officiating the Provincial Spatial Strategy, which outlines the principles cities must follow for inclusive and equitable development.

All these movements must first be reflected in the master plan, and once the plan is finalised, these can be translated through the building and zoning regulations. However, blind to these parallel movements, the LDA, as architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz so aptly stated at a seminar, "puts the cart before the horse" and rams into the city with its building regulations.

This and other concerns were voiced at a ‘public’ seminar held on 5 August at the LDA Sports Complex. I use the word ‘public’ sparingly because the time and day of the seminar – 11am on a Monday – indicates that the authority had no interest in having the citizenry of Lahore attend the seminar.

LDA representatives highlighted how rapid and uncontrolled commercialisation in the city has wreaked havoc on our infrastructure and public spaces. While the concern is accurate, I did not find its resolution in their draft of the building and zoning regulations.

The same concern was also recently also brought up in a meeting between the LDA and the Urban Unit, where one of the recommendations we gave was that they incorporate ‘informal street vendor’ as an official category and provide and regulate the space allotted to them. This will not only allow the city to plan ahead for possible ‘encroachment’ by these vendors, but in turn also support the large informal economy. The suggestion has not been reflected in their draft either.

The one clause in the LDA regulations that leaves me confounded is the amended parking clause. Clause 3.11 of the new document states that one parking space is required for every 1,600 square feet of covered area, whereas the old regulations asked for one parking space for every 1,000 square feet. This indicates that the new regulations are aiming to reduce the parking area within commercial plots.

However, a subsequent clause – 5.7.9 – provides monetary incentives if the builder provides additional parking on their plot. This makes one wonder what the LDA’s stance on parking is. And what was the point of reducing parking space in the new bylaw if they were going to add an incentive to the builder for increasing it anyway?

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Some good points in the building and zoning regulations include the installation of rainwater harvesting equipment in all future buildings (clause 5.6.6). What the document completely neglects, however, is applying this clause to golf courses. Golf courses, having large spans of green, are excellent sites for stormwater storage.

Additionally, in sections Q to U of clause 3.6.4, the use of insulation for buildings is reiterated. The regulations, however, fail to regulate the building materials to ensure that they do not absorb heat at a high rate in the first place. Logic begs that builders first be encouraged to use materials that are better suited to our climate, and then insulation be recommended as an added feature.

One noteworthy clause – 2.5 – that the LDA has added in their regulations is the allowance of four story apartments on a plot size as small as 10 marla. Previously, one could not build an apartment on a plot measuring less than 80 marla. If adequately regulated, these apartments can serve as excellent means of addressing the housing issue in Lahore.

However, additional incentives are required to encourage builders to focus on serving the middle- and low-income housing demand. Without such measures, irrespective of how well-intentioned the regulation is, the apartments will either not be built; or if built, will not address the housing crisis.

It is important to note that these regulations have no say over the areas under Cantonment and the Defence Housing Authority, both of which are the primary contributors of sprawl in Lahore, with the latter rapidly edging towards the border with India.

If the primary motive of such an extensive exercise was to address sprawl, and the exercise itself has no impact on areas most in need of such regulation, I can logically conclude that the exercise is futile.

However, I may be wrong. Soon after this seminar, it was reported that the LDA endorsed of a 40 storey building, a hotel, on The Mall. One can’t help but wonder if the ‘public’ seminar and the haphazard revision in regulations was yet another exercise to support the vested interests of a few at the cost of the city of Lahore.

Are you looking at urban development in Pakistan? Share your insights with us at prism@dawn.com


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Mishele Ijaz is a senior research analyst in the Urban Planning Department at the Urban Unit. She holds a Masters degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Oct 16, 2019 05:16pm
Going vertical is not a bad idea but with that we need, new and extended sewerage system, new and revised water supply, we need a new fire fighting equipment for the tall building, we need adequate parking for all the resident of the high rise building. WE need wider roads to cater for heavier traffic. Before we go high rise , we should have a new underground transit system. we need electricity, internet to take care of larger population covering smaller area. I wonder all the above are looked in, before making a decision to go high rise. We have all these grandeur scheme, which when in place turned out to be a disaster in long run.
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Oct 16, 2019 05:33pm
The government must act fast on the regulations and enforce them on war footings.
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M. Saeed
Oct 16, 2019 05:38pm
High rise buildings do not require them being sky high. medium high rise buildings lets say of a maximum of 10 to 15 stories, can easily be managed and maintained. Lahore has already stretched, touching Pattoki to Gujranwala, Sheikhupura to Wagha. It is already a GT City.
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Gordon D. Walker
Oct 16, 2019 06:08pm
An excellent overview... Khan might take the time to read it. Gordon D. Walker Canada
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Oct 16, 2019 06:50pm
Isn't Lahore prone to Earthquakes? If you look at the vertical trend in Karachi you will see that there is no thought for increasing utilities, security, roads, car parking, footpaths, parks or provide decent medical centers. Examples are Punjab colony, Azizabad, Mehmoodabad to name a few.
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Oct 16, 2019 06:51pm
first removed garbage from karachi
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Oct 16, 2019 07:49pm
The writer has a valid point. However, for anyone familiar with the basics of town planning, it is clear that the answer to (low density) urban sprawl lies in increasing urban densities (growing vertical is just one such option) AND integrating high density points to public transport nodes.
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iqbal umar
Oct 16, 2019 08:05pm
excellent contribution
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Ramana Madhavpeddi
Oct 16, 2019 09:32pm
Great write up! This is a problem in the entire sub-continent, where town planners have basically zero understanding of planning large cities
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Oct 17, 2019 12:18am
These public meetings should be held at all levels at 6 pm so that all can attend.PTI must implement it.
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Oct 17, 2019 02:34am
Worthy comments and should be given thought, however, Hong Kong and Singapore achieved traffic issues and clean cities, yet with high rise, admittedly the lack of space but they did more than that.
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Oct 17, 2019 03:12am
Why would high rise buildings only cater to the rich? It's a more efficient use of limited land so if anything it should result in a lower cost housing.
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David Salmon
Oct 17, 2019 05:18am
"Moreover, car dependency means longer distances are travelled in lesser time, which further encourages cities to sprawl." Your mind and heart are pure, but time commuting is wasted time. If wider roads cut commute time, people will demand them. In the US, the average commuter loses nearly nine days per year to commuting. That is time cut out of one's life, one's work, unproductive, dissatisfying, lost. Rejigger the cities as you think best, but meanwhile focus on cutting commute times. Some of your ideas could be linked to that purpose, perhaps, to everyone's advantage. imho David
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Haroon Raza
Oct 17, 2019 07:20am
Lets have a taste of apartment buildings. Apartments/condos are generally built for lower middle class here in US and Canada. I am a fan of such measures though.
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Oct 17, 2019 08:28am
@Haroon Raza, You think lower middle class people live in Manhattan or any Downtown area of any American city ?
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Oct 17, 2019 09:56am
The abvious solution to the problem of urban sprawl is to focus on making life in villages and smaller towns more attractive. Businesses should be encouraged to shift away from big cities and the Government should improve educational and health facilities in small towns.
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Oct 17, 2019 10:19am
I agree, the proper urban planning is the only smart move so that the city current infrastructure doesn't collapse, unfortunately the example is Karachi .
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At. Kifayat Hussain
Oct 17, 2019 10:30am
Good analysis reflecting the current situation of the urban sprawl and suggested way forward.
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Oct 17, 2019 12:30pm
Some people have already started building 4 story buildings on 10 marla plots in new housing societies and they now look like inner Lahore due to narrow roads which were not planned for high rise construction. City planning needs to be updated before high rise are allowed.
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Oct 17, 2019 01:15pm
high rise development isn't the issue, the rights of the proprietors is, providing adequate car park facilities, considering that people's place of residence may not be located close to their abode, road infrastructure to cater for this traffic, some may cry of pollution but within a decade most cars will be either hybrid or fully electric, places like Lahore which have a rich cultural and architectural history require amenities for tourism, again a combination of vehicle parking facilities with public transport facilities which families can utilise. A good example is the futuristic city being developed outside the city of Dubai, where transport is underground, there are no cars above ground, electricity is primarily provided by renewables. We require people with ingenious solutions not necessarily those hashed from western schools.
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