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Spatial Planning in Kenya at Crossroads? Perceptions from the Kenya Institute of Planners (KIP) 3rd Annual Conference 2015

The Kenya Institute of Planners (KIP) held its third annual conference on 3rd to 4th December, at Machakos County Headquarters to deliberate on ‘Urbanization and planning under devolved governance systems in Kenya’. There was representative attendance in the workshop drawing participants from various spheres including planners in private practice, government, civil society, representatives from county governments, the Commission of Constitution Implementation, the Transitional Authority as well as members from Academia.

In Kenya, Spatial Planning, land use management and development control has long been highly problematic. First, there has been uncoordinated planning, for example, plans are prepared and funded at the sector, district, local government and constituency level. Under these circumstances, accountability and effective monitoring of development plans would be a problem. Nevertheless, the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 with the resultant suppoting statutes portends a new lease of life for planning, land use and development control. The opportunities for preparation of various plans that are able to respond to local challenges and spur growth are now available and buttressed through legislation. The key planning, land use and development control statutes include the County Government Act 2012, Urban Area and Cities Act 2011, the Physical Planning Act Cap 286 and the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act 1999.

However, transition from the previous system of governance to the devolved system has been met with numerous challenges. This was highlighted by various conference presentation which established that planning is struggling to establish and legitimate itself as a mover of development in the counties and nation at large.

Dr. Isaac Mwangi the KIP chairman observed that most planning agencies are stuck on the old legal-organizational models of management that seek to place planning under administrative and executive authority and less on rational procedure and process model as informed by statutory planning provisions. He underscored the need for planning to adopt a model that is up to date and consistent with the tenets of the new constitution. 

The Transitional Authority Chairman, Mr. Kinuthia Wamwangi was of the same opinion and reiterated that there are conflicts between national and county planning apparatus as well as inertia in adopting the new planning language as contained in the new legislation. He noted that other challenges include, limited revenue and revenue collection mechanisms, limited legislation on rural planning, non-aligned legislation to the constitution, border town issues, inter-governmental and county planning limitations, inadequacies and delayed implementation of planning legislation such as the Urban Areas and Cities Act under review.  He also challenged planners to rethink the place of metropolitan development in a devolved system. Finally he cautioned planners on professional ethics by questioning their contribution to land grabbing which is a major impediment to development in Kenya.

Transitional Authority Chairman, Kinuthia Wamwangi (left) and Prof. Peter Wanyande (right) making their presentations

The conference also presented a forum for planners to re-evaluate their contribution to the implementation and actualization of the Constitution 2010 and subsequent policies. On this note, Prof. Peter Wanyande cited collaboration and coordination between the two levels of government as a major impediment to the achievement of the promises of the Constitution regarding planning. He called on planners to defend and advocate their roles and envision ways in which counties could have their own sources of revenue. Further, he called for a mindset shift in planning practice to make practical the achievement of the bill of rights for all, and recognition and action towards the improvement of informal settlements.

The Deputy governor Kiambu county, Gerald Githinji called upon planners to rethink the role of planning in promoting sustainable and equitable growth across all counties. He asserted the need for wholesome and comprehensive planning that caters for all needs- work, living and play. He also challenged planners to mind the legacy they are leaving behind. It was reported that a contentious Physical planning bill 2015, seeking to legislate planning practice, was awaiting the approval of parliament.  KIP chairman (Dr. Isaack Mwangi) asserted that the bill as it is opens planning to professional abuse since it lacks clarity on who should approve development plans and applications.  

During the second day of the conference, practicing planners made presentation on the projects they were undertaking. Plan. Edwin Wamukaya presented on the ongoing street/physical address development of the city of Nairobi which once completed will aid in the provision of services and easy navigation within the city. The exercise raised pertinent issues concerning planning, which include irregular allocation of public spaces, like road reserves and public spaces such as schools. Such allocations he noted make it difficult to locate such properties in the street system, as they do not conform to the existing legal survey plan of the city of Nairobi. 

Plan. Patrick Adolwa from the Konza city in his presentation indicated that the Infrastructure development was under way. The first phase of investments have been advertised and developers expressed desire to invest. This development is meant to serve as model for planned environments. Adolwa was optimistic that lessons from this exercise will be transferred to the county city planning. 

Plan. Ruth Waruguru from the Nairobi County government made a presentation on the NIUPLAN and the progress the city county was making in implementing the contents of the plan. She mentioned that plans were already under way pilot some of the action plans. For instance she noted that plans are underway to decongest the city through alternative routes to the city and the adoption of varied travel models such as BRT and light rail. She emphasized on integration and building on existing efforts rather that inventing the wheel especially during this transition period.

Finally Plan. Elijah Agevi talked on the need for creating livable urban public spaces. He emphasized on the need for urban safety profiles, surveillance, identifying risks and causes as well as identifying who are the victims and offenders.

Although scheduled to run from 3rd to 5th December, the workshop was cut short on the 4th after losing the conference taskforce chair and facilitator (Plan. Elijah Agevi).  Elijah was a strong advocate of low-cost housing and building technologies, inclusive governance, public spaces and urban safety. He collapsed and passed on during the Q&A session after his presentation. However it is encouraging to note that he clearly articulated what he stood for and called on all planners to continue the fight. He ended by stating that the challenge for planners is not about lack of resources but finding the right opportunities for intervention and taking actual action.  Hopefully planners will take the challenge and continue the struggle to position planning where it will bring the desired changes envisioned through devolution.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.

By Keziah Mwelu



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