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Land scarcity, huge population halt Kisii town's expansion

A section of Kisii town. [File, Standard]

As mega investments continue to pile pressure on Kisii County’s limited land resources for expansion, stakeholders are now mulling fresh tactics to deploy to solve the problem that threatens to halt the town’s growth.

For a region, that is reaping big from devolution, as more investors shift focus to the agri-business town whose potential is rapidly picking, land has become a valuable component.

Steep and rocky hills that were once home to giant trees and a few isolated homes are now turning into a commercial paradise as the region’s growth increases demand for plots.

Inside the central business district (CBD), there is barely any land for expansion while outside the town centre, families are struggling to find parcels of land to build their own homes as the population increases.

The cost of limited parcels of land has also skyrocketed with property valuers and real estate agents putting the value of an acre at Sh4 million.

So dire is the situation that residential estates are also slowly turning into commercial hubs as some investors opt to transform their plots in estates into commercial buildings.

The developments provide Governor Simba Arati’s administration with a major headache as he seeks to transform the town and position Kisii as a major investment hub for the South Nyanza region.

His predecessor James Ongwae attempted to solve the problem by expanding the town’s boundaries through a municipality charter. The problem, however, still lurks and is a major bottleneck that the new administration is facing in its development plans.

Kisii Governor Simba Arati. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

And now, alarmed by the prospects of the problem turning into a crisis as demand for commercial spaces soars, Arati’s administration is working on an ambitious plan to solve the issue.

Dubbed “The Urban Economic Plan”, the plan is pegged on the need to ensure there is proper planning for the region’s urban growth and provide a framework for expansion that will be in place for the next 20 years.

It has cost taxpayers Sh20 million to create the plan but is expected to find a lasting solution to the woes that Kisii town is facing in its bid to be a major commercial hub for the region.

Municipal boundaries

The plan, which will replace the current one done in 1972, will factor expansion of the municipal boundaries from 25km2 to more than 90km2.

It will guide land use in the municipality and integrate other sectors among them transport and road network, climate change, urban drainage, zoning ordinances, and development control. Municipality Manager Nahashon Ongeri says the plan will address the current competition for limited resources such as land.

He believes the land problem is threatening the future stability of the municipality and must be addressed to help solve the problem of congestion.

“Since inception in 2019, the Kisii Municipality has seen improved infrastructural development; improved road network that has spurred growth and attracted investment and opened access within CBD and to the surrounding estates,” said Ongeri.

An aerial photo of Kisii town's expanding infrastructure. [Eric Abuga, Standard]

As part of the efforts to improve operations within the municipality and make it an investor-friendly town, the devolved unit has already implemented a number of projects.

These include road projects aimed at easing movements as well as plans to introduce traffic lights and additional road projects, aimed at reducing congestion in the town centre.

Recently, the municipality constructed the Nyanchwa-Falcon Road, the shortest link connecting the largest estate in Kisii Municipality to the CBD has opened the area for business.

The one-kilometre road, funded under the World Bank Kenya Urban Support Programme (KUSP), is the second tarmac to have been completed in the municipality, after the Makutano-Getare road that was constructed in 2019.

Other projects under the municipality include; the under construction 2.1 km Jogoo Primary-KIHBT-Kisii School road and the completion of the Sh50 million fire station.

The Board Chair Jamil Shamji said that they have prioritised street lighting, bypass roads, water supply, and walkways. Statistics indicate that the region’s land use has undergone a massive transformation over the last couple of years.

For example, in 2005, built-up areas which covered 251.34 hectares exponentially increased to 1036.32 hectares by 2020, a transition of 275.73 per cent.