Government must step in to stop madness of unplanned development around towns

Tuesday January 5 2016

A worrying site where a building that was under construction collapsed in Skuta area, Nyeri town, on November 17, 2014. This is due to poor planning and lack of development regulation. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A worrying site where a building that was under construction collapsed in Skuta area, Nyeri town, on November 17, 2014. This is due to poor planning and lack of development regulation. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

As we get into 2016, Kenya continues to suffer an acute shortage of decent urban housing.

New housing units continue to fall far below the annual projection of 150,000 required to bridge our national deficit.

The persistent deficit has seen local entrepreneurs devise innovative models to cash in.

Sadly, some of the models are unsuitable for the long term and the sustainable development of our urban areas.

Unless regulated, these models will be the bane of Kenya’s urban life in the future.

Those who have travelled around the country will attest to the scores of new developments around the peripheral rim of most urban centres.

A careful look will reveal major gaps in infrastructural services, particularly roads and sewer lines.

In most cases, residents struggle to seal the gaps by pooling resources to improve the access roads around them.

However, the quality of such improvements is usually wanting due to financial limitations and lack of expert input.

Vehicles sometimes get stuck on peri-urban access roads for hours while pedestrians have difficulty walking on the usually narrow and muddy roads.

During the dry season, the roads get dusty and inconvenient to walking while homesteads near them suffer under clouds of dust.

Most of these roads are dark at night, adding to neighbourhood insecurity.

It is even worse for sewer services. Since these are unavailable in most such areas, residents make do with pit latrines or septic tanks.

CASHING IN

Poor management of these facilities leads to the pollution of the micro-climate in the neighbourhoods.

When there is flooding during heavy rains, some of the facilities give in, posing a threat of water-borne diseases.

This is certainly not the quality of urban life anyone would like.

And it is all due to poor planning and lack of development regulation. How did we get here?

Individuals, corporates, sacco societies, and land-buying companies noticed that urban residents, faced by unaffordable housing units in formal estates, were ready to buy any available land to develop for occupation or rental returns.

Land around big towns such as Nairobi, Thika, Nakuru, Eldoret, and Kisumu would be subdivided into small plots and sold.

Many smaller urban centres suffer the problem too.

In a number of cases, this has been successfully done and helped to improve housing. In many others, the result has been unsatisfactory.

The challenge arises once the new land owners make subdivisions that do not have the blessing of legal formalities.

This includes providing plot sizes out of conformity with the immediate neighbourhood, usually too small.

In other cases, title deeds are issued without obliging the original owner to extend roads, water, and power to the new sub-plots, as was the law and custom in the past.

GATED COMMUNITY

This leaves the plot buyers with the responsibility of catering for such utilities on their own.

Furthermore, in trying to draw maximum returns, some of the developers provide narrow internal access roads.

The delivery of domestic items or construction materials by wide axle vehicles subsequently gets severely strained and the security of motorists at night is at risk.

If affordable, the gated community model is a welcome exception.

It provides comprehensive physical infrastructure, including security, to the enclosed units and needs to be encouraged.

Challenges arise, though, where these are located far from the nearest tarmac roads, leaving the gated community to access the units through rough roads.

This could be bridged by improving the main access road and apportioning the cost to individual units.

Government assistance should also be sought to complement the efforts.

If the trend of unplanned peri-urban development is to be reversed, the national and county governments will have to step in and carefully regulate the sub-division of land and construction proposals in the urban peripheries.

Construction of standard roads and provision of water and power must be ensured.

Standard road widths should be enforced.

The government should ensure the provision of critical infrastructure such as trunk roads to the peri-urban zones, power voltage step-down transformers, and sewer lines.

Big schemes aimed at providing village-like clusters of small non-viable quarter-acre plots or less, deep in our rural areas, must be discouraged.