Last week, the Lahore Development Authority notified the building and zoning regulations of 2019 (amended) for Lahore. One salient feature of these regulations is the approval granted to land owners to build multi-storey buildings in residential areas and a raising of the ceiling.
The regulations are applicable to all LDA schemes where there were restrictions were in place on the vertical growth of building structures.
As per details, the owner of a plot measuring between 10 marla and one kanal will be allowed to build structures having four floors; between one and two kanals, seven floors; between two and four kanals, 10 floors; between four and eight kanals, 15 floors; and between eight and 12 kanals, 24 floors. There will be no bar on the number of floors if the building is constructed on land measuring 12 kanals or more, subject to the award of a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Civil Aviation Authority (CIA).
The regulations, as explained by the LDA, fall in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan who had banned real estate development on fertile agricultural land in the Punjab, earlier this year, and supported the idea of vertical growth. The reason the PM cited was that an uncontrolled, horizontal growth of cities that was eating up the agricultural lands of the province, and there seemed to be no end to this practice.
In order to accommodate the ever-increasing population including the large number of immigrants in the cities, high-rise buildings have been touted as the ideal solution. Lahore, which is facing a major issue of housing, has been given a priority in this respect.
Interestingly, the policy supporting the vertical growth of cities has met with a mixed response from the public. Some have welcomed it as the much-needed move that should encourage optimum use of land available to the city and make housing affordable for people, whereas some think that tall concrete structures will prove an eyesore. There are those who support the idea, with certain conditions, and suggest adopting certain measures and policies to mitigate the risks involved.
Gohar Majeed, Director, Trust Deals, a real estate development company in Lahore, tells TNS: “No doubt vertical growth can help bridge the gap between the demand and supply of housing units, but it is not easy to resolve the issue by just announcing a policy. There are several other factors that the government will need to look into while implementing the plan.”
For example, he says, the high-rises need functional elevators round the clock and fire-fighting equipment in order to cope with any emergencies. But, unfortunately, these facilities are missing even in some upscale commercial buildings. According to Majeed, the electricity supply to the city is irregular, and there is a dearth of hydrants in the city which makes crisis management difficult.
“Once you have high-rises, even in residential areas, you will need to increase the capacity of emergency services manifold.”
Majeed admits that the concept of high-rise buildings is becoming popular, albeit slowly. He says, one major reason for this is their affordability. “When there are multiple housing units on a plot, the cost of the land is divided. This brings the unit cost down.”
He points out that despite being an affordable option shared living is not a popular choice in Lahore. “Here, people want to be the owners of a house, including the land on which it is built. So, there is a need to change mindsets as well!”
Shortage of land in the city has also led the government to ease the rules even on the highly protected Mall. Last month, the LDA’s governing body approved a proposal to grant permission for the construction of a 40-storey hotel in the Upper Mall area. This is an extraordinary decision considering the fact that Upper Mall is a controlled area under the building regulations in force.
Naveed Iftikhar, an expert on urban planning and public policy, says the public anxiety regarding high-rises being unsafe deters people from buying spaces in cities like Lahore. “Their fears are not unfounded,” he adds, “because they have seen such buildings caving in in the event of a downpour or an earthquake.
“In order to avoid such a situation, my suggestion is that the government should make it binding on all such buildings to get insurance. This way the burden will shift to the insurance companies who will ask the building owners to meet certain safety criteria.”
Iktikhar says that the apartment culture is popular in Karachi where land availability is limited, and there is sea breeze all the time. “The model won’t be easy to replicate in Lahore. However, the idea is likely to find favour with people once there is an increased supply of shared housing units.
“There is a need to have condominium rules as well that give people ownership of shared properties even when they do not own the land,” he adds.
High-rise buildings in residential areas will definitely have an effect on the environment, and the concrete structures that come up shall cause urban-heat island effect. So, the concerns of environmentalists are valid, and must be addressed.
Sardar Asif Ali Sial, an environmental lawyer who has served as chairman of the Climate Justice Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA), believes that the idea of vertical growth is not bad provided the required measures are adopted to minimise degradation. He suggests that the adoption of green building principles, urban forestry concepts, and clean energy could produce desired results and make the buildings more livable.
The document regarding the regulations says these have been finalised after comprehensive deliberations with experts from the private sector as well as public sector, and the Authority is open to suggestions for improvement. “If there are any drawbacks, they will definitely be paid attention to.”
As per the draft the latest regulations bind the owners to ensure provision of solar power system, rain water harvesting, rooftop gardening, plantations, firefighting equipment, and water storage facilities etc in the multi-storey structures they build.