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Ravi Riverfront: Pakistan’s First Planned City of this Century

GVS looks at where the Ravi front project stands, what it intends to do, why it was needed, the history of development behind it, and what it means for the country's future.

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The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, being developed by Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA), will undoubtedly become one of Pakistan’s national projects of this century.

It will be the first major planned city after Islamabad was set up in the 1960s under President Ayub Khan when the capital was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad. Phase one of the Ravi Riverfront project was launched with Prime Minister Imran Khan laying the foundations of this expected Rs. 5 trillion projects in August 2020.

The project covers 100,000 acres of land on the riverfront of river Ravi and is to be based on international standards in line with the latest housing developments as seen in Dubai and the UAE.

In a bidding process in May 2021, the Arif Habib Javedan Consortium won the development rights for Sapphire Bay, the name for the first phase of the Ravi city project. According to
RUDA, as many as eight groups were pre-qualified for submitting their technical bids for the project.

Of eight, four qualified technically, and they were asked to submit their bids. Out of four, three—including one (Javedan consortium) owned by Arif Habib Group of Companies—submitted bids.

According to sources, the 2000 Acre RUDA bid was opened on 28th May, with three bidders, including Javedan consortium, Bahria Town Pvt Ltd, and Matracon Pakistan Pvt. Ltd.

The Javedan Consortium consists of Pakistan’s 15 biggest corporate sector companies, including Younas Group, Lucky Cement, Soorti Group, Liberty Group, Fatima Fertilizer Group, Ghani Glass, US Apparel Group, Haier Group, Sapphire Group, and Orient Group, to name a few.

Reportedly, Javedan owns 51 percent of the consortium. This consortium has been developed under the unique concept of Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) introduced in Pakistan by prominent businessman and developer Gohar Ejaz.

The consortium is raising finance for the developments and is not directly the developer itself. More finance will be raised from citizens through public offerings at stock exchanges in Pakistan and abroad in subsequent stages. Total transparency is being promised to maintain public and government trust.

Read More: The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project (RUDP) manages to attract foreign investment worth $8 billion

The companies will give Rs10.75 billion cash for this project and will ensure that 15 percent developed residential and 15 percent developed commercial plots are provided to RUDA. The Second highest bidder Bahria bid Rs10.7 billion cash and 15.01 percent developed residential, and 11.01 percent developed commercial plots to RUDA.

The third bidder, namely Matracon, a construction company in Pakistan, bid Rs10.52 billion cash and 15.5 percent Residential and 11 percent Commercial developed plots to RUDA. It is worth mentioning, Javedan Consortium that won the bid consists of Rs1 trillion public sector companies. The companies in the consortium have an overall market cap of Rs1.5 trillion with 1 million direct employees.

About the First Phase

Sapphire Bay, the first phase of the upcoming Ravi City project, has an estimated revenue of 400 billion rupees across over 5,000 acres of land. Prime Minister Imran Khan has personally conducted many of the Ravi Urban Development Project meetings where discussions took place.

Ravi Riverfront

It was decided that out of 5,000 acres, 3,000 acres will be used for flood protection, and the remaining 2,000 acres will be used for construction. The first bids were for the 2000-acre construction project.

According to the winning bid, the project would now get Rs10.75 billion from the consortium (working under the REIT concept) and 15 percent of both residential and commercial developed plots given to the Authority by the group.

The Sapphire Bay aims to create a planned vibrant city on Ravi’s bed, solving Lahore’s massive overpopulation problem and the environmental pollution problem all at once while attracting investment opportunities to make the place an economic hub of the city.

Challenges faced by Lahore

Mian Amir, ex- Nazim of Lahore, explained to the GVS team that Lahore as a city has historically been bounded from three sides. In the east, its further expansion was limited by the border with India and in the west and north Ravi River – which had only 1-2 bridges – restricted its growth.

So, as the population grew, Lahore could only expand in the South – towards Kasur. The new Ravi River Front project will now help ease some of the burdens on Lahore, which suffers from rapid urbanization and overcrowding, leading to a host of problems such as increasing pollution (both land and air), congestion, shortage of clean drinking water, and inadequate drainage facilities.

The Ravi project will also include rehabilitating the dying river Ravi that has seen lower water levels with each passing year. It will do so by raising Lahore’s water levels. Ravi river is one of the five major rivers of Pakistan and essential for this water-starved country.

Pakistan is ninth in the world when it comes to being affected by climate change, and the country is expected to go into a severe water crisis by 2025 and, by 2040, the most water-stressed country in the region. The Ravi project will convert the dying Ravi River into a perennial freshwater body and high-quality urban development on each side of the bank.

The project also includes creating a 46km long lake, new urban forests for greenery, three new barrages, six new water treatment plants for safe drinking water, surface water treatment plants, high-rise buildings, and economical housing units priced at Rs. 1,800,000.

Read More: Ravi City project will bring in Rs. 400 billion in revenue in its first phase

During meetings, Ravi Urban Development Authority’s (RUDA) Member Iftikhar Ali Malik has said that many other parties are also interested in developing the different parts of the project, and sources claim even the Chinese have shown interest.

It is said that the Government of China and Chinese Companies are interested in investing $3 billion in the project. He has mentioned that a Global Investment Consortium, The ANGCC, has also offered an additional investment worth $5 billion on a partnership basis.

RUDA has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two more Chinese companies. One is a member company of the 4C conglomerate China Road and Bridging Company (CRBC), and the other is the China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC).

Both these companies have signed the MoU for a multi-billion-dollar investment in this huge project. These companies are currently playing their part in the successful execution of various other infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

History of this project

The idea of an urban development project on the Ravi front was first suggested in 1947 by the then Deputy Commissioner of Lahore. In 2001 Mian Amir, Chairman Dunya Media Group, then Nazim of Lahore relaunched the idea, and preliminary studies were done under him and later under Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi government, but it did not go far with the change of governments.

The Government of Punjab, under Shahbaz Sharif, then took it up in 2013. In 2014, Lahore Development Authority (LDA) hired a Singapore-based architectural firm Meinhardt Group to run the feasibility report and design the project – but it again got stuck.

Initially, the project was supposed to span over 18,000 hectares, but in August 2020, Mehmood Ur Rashid, now in the PTI government, announced the revised area of the riverfront project to be 40,000 hectares. This project is inspired by the developments around River Thames in London.

Read More: Pakistan’s top 15 companies win bid for development rights of Sapphire Bay

An urban forest, a lake, three barrages, and six water treatment plants are to be built in the first phase of its development. This 44000-acre city project is surely going to be the beginning of a new Lahore as it will upgrade the living standards of millions of its inhabitants.

This soon-to-start project – like any capital project – now requires stability of government policy and regulation for the next ten years or so. It must be recognized as a national initiative and must be safeguarded and developed by all incoming governments.

This development is much needed for Lahore’s future as a megacity and for Punjab. The concept of REIT funding, as introduced by Mr. Gohar Ejaz, may help to maintain the transparency needed to shield it during the political transitions in Punjab.

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