By Perla G. Lena

ILOILO CITY, March 24 (PNA) — More than three decades since he last visited Iloilo, United Kingdom Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the Philippines Richard Graham was all praises for the development of the city when he landed at the airport Friday morning.

Graham and the other members of the British delegation were briefed of Iloilo City’s Urban Renewal Project, a pet project of Ilonggo Senator Franklin M. Drilon, by landscape architect and urban planner Paolo Alcazaren in a short program held at the Richmonde Hotel Iloilo following today’s opening of the British Festival at SM City mall.

“Urban regeneration is one of the most fascinating topics in the world,” Graham said as he also cited as “quite extraordinary” what is currently being done at the Iloilo River.

“This took inspiration from the cleaning of the Iloilo River which itself took inspiration from the cleaning of the river dams in London ,” said Alcazaren.

The Urban Renewal Project started four years ago, based on the development of the both sides of the Iloilo River that stretches to about 15 kilometers. Once completed, its last phase will give prominence to Nicholas Loney, the first British Vice Consul in Iloilo in 1856 and was dubbed as the “Father of the Philippine Sugar Industry.”

The area of the eight projected phases of the project when put together will be bigger than the Rizal Park in Manila. Its last phase culminates right at the Muelle Loney area, named after Nicholas Loney.

The project will be integrated with the proposed development of the capitol complex. The development inside the complex includes restoration of the old jail to be converted into a national museum and Rotary Park, among others.

Also part of the development will be the restoration of the Iloilo Sunburst Park and transfer of the Loney Monument from its current location across the heritage building of the Bureau of Customs.

The project is expected to be completed in the next two years.

“What you have achieved here in a pretty short space of time is nothing short of extraordinary, not just in the Philippines but on the global basis of urban regeneration. And this has been done in a democracy,” he said.

Graham also lauded British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad and Department of International Director Trade Michael Moon for their effort to “re-explore Visayas following the entrepreneurial spirit of Loney.”

He explained that what Loney did of bringing in technology and finance remains relevant today.

“Finance, innovation and education are the three key points that we can hope to bring with the greater entrepreneurial spirit from the British Embassy, myself and the private sector working together,” he said.

Graham last visited Iloilo in 1985. In his message, he cited that the “main and overwhelming motivation” for him as trade envoy was his strong feeling of “utang na loob” to the Philippines and the kindness he experienced when he was in the county. (PNA)