BDA's master plan goes from 'compact' to 'urban sprawl'

The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) recently published the much-awaited draft Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2031 for Bengaluru. This plan is to regulate the growth of 1,219 sqkm area under the BDA jurisdiction for the next 15 years. The draft is open for public comments till January 23, 2018, after which it will be modified and notified as an enforceable legal document under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961.

The draft RMP includes 6 documents: Vision Document, Existing Land Use Maps, Proposed Land Use Maps, Master Plan Document, Planning District Report and Zoning Regulations. In this article, we examine the broad vision and strategy of urban planning and development for Bengaluru which is primarily set out in the Vision Document of the draft RMP.

In January 2017, the BDA published a consultation document as a part of the RMP 2031 process that examined three growth scenarios for Bengaluru. A 'Containment Scenario' envisaged low population growth to 15.4 million by 2031, to be concentrated within existing municipal limits. The 'Corridor Development Scenario' imagined intensive development along transit corridors to accommodate a projected population of 24.7 million.

The third 'Differential Strategy Scenario' projected a population of 20.3 million, to be accommodated primarily in an expanding urban periphery while protecting the core from further densification and congestion. While each scenario calls for trade-offs, the third scenario drew strong criticism for the high costs - both ecological and economic - that urban sprawl would impose on the city and state government and its current and future residents. Nevertheless, the draft RMP 2031 has adopted this differential strategy as the foundation for the plan.

The RMP envisions a "liveable and well-governed Bengaluru premised on efficient mobility and vibrant ecology". While population projections estimated in other statutory plans for the extended region of Bengaluru suggest stabilisation of future decadal growth rates in Bengaluru Metropolitan Area, the differential strategy scenario arguably projects Bengaluru to grow at a faster rate than the last decade to 20.3 million people in 2031.

To accommodate this projected population, the plan opens up existing agricultural areas for urbanisation by expanding the conurbation area (developable area) by 80 sqkm As the conurbation area grows, the forest area radically decreases from 27.53 sqkm in the existing land use to a mere 5.7 sqkm in the proposed land use. However, it strangely appears that the total proposed agricultural area has not reduced in aggregate though the proposed city maps are awash in yellow (residential areas)!

While the previous master plan (RMP 2015) sought to adopt a compact city model with higher Floor Area Ratio (FAR) in the city, the present plan ends up promoting urban sprawl. The plan has reduced the FAR in the core and increased it in the periphery. Reduced FAR in the core city will make property unaffordable and discourage redevelopment due to the restrictions on built-up space. This will hollow out the old core city and create artificial scarcity of residential space.

Further, the proposed land use for residential purposes has increased to 424 sqkm from 212 sqkm. This increases the per capita allocation of urbanised land substantially and as a bulk of this development will occur in the peripheral areas of the city, this will exacerbate sprawl of the city. Urban sprawl would require municipal and state agencies to make huge investments in bulk infrastructure and services, and in case they fail, residents will have to make expensive private arrangements, as is currently the case.

While the area for residential use has doubled, that for commercial use has decreased by 36% (from 38.3 sqkm to 24.7 sqkm) in RMP 2031. RMP 2015 had introduced the category of mixed land use zoning for planned residential areas and traditional residential localities. This was opposed by Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) of planned residential areas like Indiranagar and Koramangala but welcomed by traditional residential localities like Cubbon Pete and Kempapura Agrahara. Responding to the concerns of RWAs, the RMP 2031 has dropped the category of mixed land use.

New concerns

But in applying strict land use segregation, RMP 2031 raises several new concerns. First, any effort to turn back the clock by colouring blue areas (commercial use) yellow (residential use) might face legal hurdles as many of these commercial establishments have secured required permissions. Secondly, where will commercial activities be located? RMP 2031 has rejected mixed land use in the core areas, but proposed five 'Special Development Zones' in the periphery. These zones are conceived as 'High Density Integrated Developments', which will include both commercial and residential spaces. This will intensify the divergence between the core and peripheral parts of the city.

An urban development strategy which reduces FAR and promotes sprawl requires substantial investment in public transportation. RMP 2031 suggests adopting a 'Transit-oriented Development' (ToD) model. A ToD strategy would mean promoting an integrated public transport system coupled with intensification of development in proximity to public transit stations by allocating higher FARs in the core areas and periphery alike. However, the Differential Strategy Scenario adopts the ToD strategy selectively to increase FAR only in the periphery.

Taken together, the draft RMP 2031 rejects containment and promotes urban sprawl. While many RWAs are concerned primarily with land use categorisation in their respective neighbourhoods and investors and businesses reshape their strategies to garner greater returns, it is critical that we question the core Differential Strategy Scenario. Can 21st century Bengaluru reject the principles of new urbanism with dense, mixed neighbourhoods that promote public transport and walkability to reduce environmental and resource costs and yet be a liveable, affordable and ecologically smart city?

(Sudhir Krishnaswamy is founder-trustee, Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR); Mathew Idiculla is research consultant, CLPR; Champaka Rajagopal is visiting faculty, Azim Premji University and has worked on RMP 2015)

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