The metamorphosis of Chennai has been continuous, but in the last few decades, mostly in one direction – South. With the southern part of the city dotted with residential complexes, a teeming IT corridor and a parallel industry of food and hospitality catering to the growth, the North, where the city of Madras has its roots in, finds itself far behind.
Experts say the rampant industrialisation, thanks to the power plants and industries including those dealing with chemicals, supported by the port, has made expansion and development of the area almost out of the question.
“The North was saturated, and people had to move South for expansion,” said Nischal R. Buddhavarapu, director, PADGRO Consultants, an urban planning firm. But some like Ajit Chordia, president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India (CREDAI), Tamil Nadu, blamed much of the stagnation on the perception about the area.
“It is perceived to have polluting industries, power plants, and higher rate of crime. And, other than the arterial roads, the infrastructure is not as good as it is in South Chennai.”
There are a few big bets, like the 8-10 million sq ft project by SPR Group in the Binny Mills land in Perambur, the first phase of which is expected to be completed by 2021. The targeted clientele are the traders of North Chennai, now settled in Sowcarpet and Choolai, said Navin Ranka, director of the group. “They have good income level, but hardly any opportunity to live and do business in a decent place,” he said.
While both have grown substantially over the last decade, North Chennai has always received step motherly treatment when it comes to basic infrastructure, pointed out Advait Jani, manager, World Resources Institute (WRI).
“Most of the infrastructure in North is what was left behind by the British, which is in need of repairs and upgrades due to the increase in population,” he said.
Without the basic infrastructure in place, the projects by private players, regardless of their size, can do little to transform the area. Becase, Jani pointed out, the basic infrastructure would still be unable to handle the load of the extra population.
For North Chennai to grow, “the government needs to focus on improving the sewage, storm water drains and public transport network”, he said.
CREDAI president Ajit Kumar Chordia added that the North has all the right ingredients for expansion. He said that with Chennai Metro Rail starting to function, the area around the corridor in the region is bound to see development.
“The government needs to come with a clear policy to encourage redevelopment. Smaller fragments of property are non-compliant and defy basic tenets of town planning. They need to be reconstituted, like in Delhi where land pooling is happening – a part of land is retained for widening roads, etc.,” he said.
Over the years, the development in North Chennai was continuous and clustered. “Therefore, each building is touching the other, and encroaching the road. A redevelopment policy can change the face of North Chennai.”
Give the scope, it was time steps were taken to undertake planned redevelopment of the area, said retired IAS official MG Devasahayam, who was earlier the district collector and estate officer of Chandigarh, the best – and perhaps only – planned city in India.
“In areas like Royapuram and George Town, there is enough scope for redevelopment. Across the world, old cities are being redeveloped using technology. But land use is poor across India,” he said.
North Chennai has always received step motherly treatment when it comes to basic infrastructure, claim experts
Roads hold the key
However, according to a senior official from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), while North Chennai looks congested, the density of population is actually not high. “Apart from Sowcarpet, the population is not much in other parts. The narrow roads make the localities look congested.” He said that the Master Plan would see many spots and stretches from the locality being included, providing impetus to the much-needed development of the area. Noting that the Metro Rail service has brought in mobility, he said the corridor, including the Northern suburbs covered by it, would offer a wider scope of redevelopment to the region.
Redevelopment should not impact conservation of historical heritage
While welcoming a complete overhaul, one should not overlook the need to preserve the historical authenticity of the area, pointed out V Sriram, a noted city-based historian. Given the changes like the widespread presence of retail showrooms, a concrete policy and out-of-the box thinking is what is required.
“North Chennai was very residential and wholesale, and then government decided to relocate them to places like Sathangadu. Immediately after that, the retailers moved in and now we have a number of retail showrooms,” he said. He added that though many frown at Western approaches for resolving the same situation, they could offer valuable inputs for an alternative plan.
“Acropolis in Athens has focused more on pedestrian accessibility for making it tourist friendly. People living nearby have converted their homes into bed-and-breakfast. I am not saying everyone living near these heritage spots in North Chennai would be interested in it, but we could begin with a few streets.” Sriram questioned the logic behind having motorised access to every street in the area.
“Let residents have access, while it can be a pedestrian zone for the rest. If the traders object to such an arrangement, then look at the long-pending proposal for a multilevel car parking near the bus stand on Broadway. Lease it to the traders there, and tell them they can have access to three to four cars parking there. To ease congestion, go for battery operated vehicles for the shopping you need,” he suggested.