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Nairobi public open spaces to get title deeds to avert grabbing

NAIROBI
By Josphat Thiong'o | October 21st 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta hands over a title deed to Keriako Tobiko Cabinet Secretary for Environment during flagging off vehicles for the National Titling Programme. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

Nairobi County Assembly is banking on the issuance of title deeds to public open spaces to keep away land grabbers.

This is after residents raised the alarm over the continued shrinking of public open space due to encroachment and grabbing by unscrupulous private developers.   

The Nairobi City County Public Open Spaces Use and Maintenance Bill 2021, before the assembly seeks to regulate public open space.

The Bill sponsored by nominated MCA Millicent Okatch seeks to ensure any land laid out or declared a public park or public open space, be maintained and used solely for the purpose for which it was laid out or be reserved.

“Consequently, each public open space in the county shall be issued with a title deed to be held in public trust for the protection of the space from unwarranted misallocation,” states the Bill in part.

According to the Bill, which has already undergone First Reading, a public open space is all open space of public value, including not just land but also areas of water such as rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs which offer important opportunities for sport and recreation and can also act as a visual amenity.

It further defines a park as open spaces, pleasure resorts, recreation areas, gardens, squares, reserves and bird sanctuaries within the county, including all buildings, grounds and spaces situated in such areas.

A spot check by The Standard reveals that currently there are six notable open spaces/parks in the capital namely Uhuru/Central Park (currently under renovation), Jamhuri Park, City Park, Arboretum, Kamkunji, Jevanjee Gardens, Karura Forest and Ngong Road Forest.

According to the Nairobi City County Public Space Inventory and Assessment Report- released by UN-Habitat Kenya in September 2020, the city has more than 826 public spaces comprising 99 playgrounds, 51 sports fields, 15 parks and 19 gardens among others.

However, most of these spaces have either been encroached, grabbed or are under threat from private developers. Road projects have also eaten into these public amenities.

In light of this, the proposed law recommends that the county and private property owners shall have a shared responsibility to maintain and improve property frontage declared as public open spaces.

To this end, the county executive appointed by the governor will be in charge of the use and maintenance of public open spaces. He or she will in turn appoint officials in charge of enforcing functions and the provisions of the Bill, once it becomes an Act.

“The county may enter into an agreement with a private landowner whose land is idle for use as public open space for the benefit of the public,” further reads the Bill.

To ensure the public open spaces are well maintained, the Bill grants the county government the right to limit the number of visitors to a park or any portion thereof or close a park or part of a park or limit the use of a park to a particular group or organisation.

The county shall also be in charge of placing notices at the entrance of a park, indicating the hours during which any park or enclosed space is closed to the public and may, for any special purpose close any park or closed space or any building therein, to the public for such time as it may from time to time consider necessary or expedient.

Cutting or causing damage to any tree or plant within or around a public park will be a punishable offence. Littering the park, other than in the place provided for such matter will also attract punitive measures.

“A person shall not light a fire or do any act which may cause a fire within the park or enter or attempt to enter any enclosed place, plantation or garden or walk on any flowerbed or any grass plot on which walking is prohibited,” it adds.

Moreover, the public are barred from engaging in sexual activities or solicit for sex in a public park. They are also not allowed to engage in brawls, fight or use profane, indecent or improper language.

One is also prohibited from consuming alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, except otherwise approved by the county.

If anyone is found flouting these measures, they are liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding Sh10,000 or both.

If the offence is repeated, the person shall be liable to a similar fine each time. The court may also order the person to compensate the county for any loss or damage.

“The county may institute a claim in the appropriate court for the amount of such loss or damage. The may order any person who has repeatedly contravened a provision from entering a park,” states the Bill.

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