An environmental watchdog has backed construction work on a controversial piece of land in Nairobi’s Lavington estate.
Dyke Holdings Limited has been licensed by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to put up 28 town houses and a clubhouse on seven-acres along Chalbi Drive.
In a reply to questions put to the environment agency, Wangari Kihara, Nema’s acting chief corporate communications manager said the approval followed due process and was done above board.
The four-bedroom maisonettes will have luxurious facilities. There will also be a swimming pool and a gym for residents.
The project was approved by the Nairobi City Council director of planning in September 2004, the ministries of Lands and Water and Irrigation in 2007.
The Lands ministry wrote then: “This is to confirm that there’s not right of way or any river, wetland reservations in the above approval surveys.” The survey was conducted by Boma Surveys, a private firm.
But neighbouring homeowners are protesting against the plan, with renowned environment lobby Green Belt Movement joining the list of objectors.
The plot in dispute is on the boundary of Lavington and the sprawling Kawangware estate. Residents say the site of the project is a wetland.
The Kenya Alliance of Residents Association, Lavington and Njumbi Road Residents Associations accuse Nema of failing to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Mr Peter Usher, who represents Lavington and Njumbi Road residents associations, claimed that Nema was disregarding the very process of carrying out an EIA.
The land, according to Mr Usher, has Katina stream, a tributary of Nairobi river. He said the Ministry of Water had earlier declared the site a riparian reserve, thereby forbidding any form of development or interference.
“Our argument is simple. That Kenya needs its wetlands but Nema has been a little careless and demonstrated little regard to the global problem of climate. If this trend continues, it will become a crisis for the country,” said Mr Usher.
Dyke Holdings director Ashok Rupshi Shah, however, maintains that the stream is a waste water way from the Kawangware slums.
“The water is dirty and poses health risks to the neighbours and what we are doing is to construct deep box channel drain to contain flooding,” he said.
But Nema maintained the project had gone through the due process from even the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA).
“Before a project is given an EIA Licence there is a procedure. The project proponent submits an EIA report to Nema, following which a public notice to submit comments on the impact of the project, by all stakeholders, is submitted within 30 days,” explained Ms Kihara.
In this specific case, she said, Dyke Holdings applied to the authority of their intentions to put up 28 bungalows and received approval in March 2009.
“However, during construction, the proponent realised the existence of a perennial stream channel. The proponent then applied for a different Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) licence. In their new application, the proponent sought approval for the canalisation and diversion of the stream,” Ms Kihara said, adding that after subjecting the second application to an EIA study, the canalisation and diversion got approval from WRMA.
The public and the homeowners around the project site, she said, failed to respond after Kenya Gazette notices of December 11 and 18, 2009 and newspaper adverts on November 25 and December 18, 2009.
“After review of the EIA report and comments submitted, Nema approved the project and issued an EIA licence in February this year,” she stated.
Mr Usher and another resident who chose to remain anonymous say there were no public hearings before the award of the licence.
The residents claim to have stayed at the place for 33 years during which he says the place has been a wetland.
“This land was left undeveloped for a specific purpose, but the kind of activities we have lately witnessed here demonstrate that Nema is inefficient and ineffective,” said Mr Usher.
They are calling on Nema to allow an independent group to carry out another EIA. The residents also accuse the developer of using the City Council to frustrate neighbours opposed to the project.
“Nema did not seek our views. We can only believe that the award was done irregularly,” said Mr Usher.
Nema says that there were no public hearings for this project as the issues raised were not contentious requiring an audience.
“However, we will still send an inspection team to the site to establish whether the project is on a wetland and take necessary action as per the law,” said Ms Kihara.
“The authority also advises that if the public are of the opinion that the project’s construction, or any other, is injurious to the environment, then they should write a complaint to Nema and we will respond on action taken as you have already brought it to our attention,” the authority added.
The project was stopped by Lands minister James Orengo last year after the Green Belt movement, KARA and the two residents associations petitioned the ministry.
The minister said during a tour of the site in the company of Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist Wangari Maathai that the wetland would be gazetted to protect it.
“This controversial development on Chalbi Drive (Lavington) has been stopped several times. It is time ministry, city council, Nema and WRMA spoke in unison over this matter. We cannot afford to destroy one of the few remaining wetlands,” Kara chief executive Stephen Mutoro wrote in a letter to the minister.
Mr Mutoro also requested that the ongoing works be stopped.