Authorities are rushing against time to come up with a substantive development plan to respond to the unprecedented growth of Kisii town as land continues to shrink.
In less than 10 years, land use in the town has changed following increased economic activities due to industrial, commercial, and real estate growth. However, development control has not kept pace with the rapid growth.
Kisii town, the capital of Kisii County, has had buildings coming up haphazardly, leading to congestion and pollution.
Structures have come up in former playgrounds and other open spaces, putting pressure on sewerage system and other infrastructural developments.
Most property developers have ignored land-use guidelines under the 1972 Kisii Town Physical Development Plan.
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Between 2010 and 2019, commercial land use in the town has expanded by almost 70 per cent.
Developers argue that the 1972 plan is outdated. They are instead asking for a new comprehensive plan covering the entire town.
The growing squatter area and slums could need a strict enforcement and monitoring command that ensures compliance with the plan.
Governor James Ongwae says for years, the town had faced the arduous task of balancing the numerous demands of the public with limited resources.
“Kisii County is rich in resources and yet experiences extreme levels of poverty and deprivation. We now have an opportunity to marshal our resources for the economic, social and political empowerment of every citizen of Kisii County to realise our vision of a prosperous county with a high quality of life,” says Mr Ongwae.
In the 1972 Kisii Town Physical Development Plan, residential area was given 212 acres, which was an equivalent of 20 per cent of the Kisii town land. Industrial use was given two per cent while public purpose was allocated 168 acres or 16 per cent of the land.
Public utilities, commercial and education were allocated 0.90 per cent, 3.53 per cent and 17.45 per cent, respectively, of the then available 1,076 acres.
Close to 48 years later, most of that land has been grabbed. The National Land Commission estimates that 66 plots in the town that were set aside for either public use or public purpose have been grabbed.
In the plan, there were arrangements to create a recreational zone that would form a ring around the town centre. Up to 90 per cent of that land is now in the hands of private developers.
In a journal, Conformity Assessment to Development Plan Implementation as a Tool for Development Control in Kisii Town, Kenya, published in November 2018, Wilfred Ochieng’ says the residential area had increased to 254 acres by 2005, from the original planned acreage of 85.86 in the 1972 plan.
Prof Ochieng’, an urban and regional planner at Kisii University, says by 2017 residential, educational and transportation were the top three dominant land uses unlike by 2005 where dominant land use was residential, educational and public purpose.
Kisii Municipality manager Charles Bonuke says the current municipal plan covers conservation and protection of the environment, cultural tourism, infrastructure and industrial development.
The municipality board has planned to relocate the current cemetery, build modern markets, do cabro works, construct three footbridges along River Nyanchwa, and build a drainage system.
Kisii County Contractors Association chairman Kennedy Mariera says all that is required is to ensure private developers adhere to the spatial plan and have the county government enforce planning laws.
“The plan to develop the town should cover socio-economic, environmental and structural aspects. There is enough space to expand it beyond the 1972 plan,” he says. In the current Kisii County Integrated Development Plan, the town and its environs are required to have about 99 acres for recreational activities.