The Anuradhapura Conservation Ordinance, established in 1942, can be considered as the first legal cover presented for the preparation and implementation of plans for any identified area within Sri Lanka; it is probably the first legislation to protect a historic site in the world. Architect/Planner Oliver Weerasinghe who was entrusted with the preparation of the Preservation Plan was appointed as the first Government Town Planner in the Department of Town and Country Planning that was established by the Town and Country Planning Ordinance No. 13 of 1946

history01The first task of the department was to finalize the Anuradhapura Preservation Plan. The Plan consisted of two parts, the Sacred Area and the New Town.

Other Plans made at the early stage was

  • Colombo Master Plan (with Patrick Abercrombie)
  • Polonnaruwa New Town Plan
  • Kandy Regional Plan covering Peradeniya University area.


It is worth mentioning here that the government allocated Rs. 170 million in 1986 for the Anuradhapura Sacred Area Plan. The allocation which was given up to the year 2002 was used to resettle about 1500 families who were living in the sacred city in a settlement called Devanampiyatissapura. Accordingly, the area called Kurunegala Junction was completely cleared for Sacred City activities.In addition, plans were prepared and implemented for Mahiyanganaya, Dambulla, Kataragama, Seruwawila, Devinuwara, Kelaniya, Muthiyanganaya, Tholuwila, Munneshwaram and other sacred areas.

This Ordinance also empowered the Department to declare or assist in the designation of any area as an Urban Development Area.

Accordingly, town planning was carried out throughout the country, not only in the cities around the sacred areas, but also in schemes such as the Maligawatta Housing Scheme and for the community buildings required for small towns.

history05 history06


In 1972, the government instructed the Department to prepare a plan for Colombo and its suburbs using UNDP assistance. Accordingly, a special Division called Colombo Master Plan was established in the department. The Urban Development Authority was established in 1978 to implement the above plan prepared by the Department. In addition to Colombo, all Municipal Councils and Urban Councils were declared by the Urban Development Authority and some areas outside those were declared as urban development areas. 

Accordingly, the role of the Department from 1980 to 2000 was confined to the following

  • To provide necessary instructions for the preparation and implementation of town plans and building plans for small towns not declared by the Urban Development Authority.
  • Planning, construction and supervision of Gamudawa exhibition grounds
  • Preparation of Sacred City Plans and implementation of those plans with the financial assistance provided by the Government.

As per the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force appointed on Housing and Urban Development, the Town and Country Planning Ordinance was amended in 2000 to allow the Government to formulate a National Physical Plan as the Government understood the significance of formulation of a National Physical Plan.

The 1946 Ordinance included a clause that required the formulation of a National Land Use Policy to cover the whole country, but the provisions of the 2000 Act were enacted to provide for a legal process for the formulation of National Physical Plans. However, most of the other functions of the Ordinance remain intact. The biggest work the Department has done since 2000 is to prepare the National Physical Plan (2007) and a revision thereof (2019) In addition to that several Regional Physical Plans and many Local Physical Plans were prepared.