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Questioning the low level of Spatial Planning practice in Ghana: Historical antecedents and present neglect

Spatial Planning Series Volume 1 August 2011

Augustine Ganiyu Adams,

Augustine Ganiyu Adams BSc Planning, MSc Development Planning & Mgt Urban and Development Planner, Knowledge Management Practitioner Email:,

Spatial planning is believed to transform ideas and economic advancement into well functioning and harmonious living environments. It is for this reason that some countries set aside large budgetary allocations and even establish state departments to handle it. It is undoubtedly clear that all things planned and implemented manifest in space. Hence spatial planning had been practiced since the beginning of time. The Canadian Institute of Planners offers a definition that sees land use planning as the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities. The American Planning Association states that the goal of land use planning is to further the welfare of people and their communities by creating convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive environments for present and future generations. Owing to the aforementioned definitions, it is undoubtedly clear that spatial planning is a subject of utmost priority if society is to develop sustainably without impinging on the environment unduly. Failure of most developing countries to pay much attention to spatial planning has resulted in lob-sided development that is both unsustainable and plagued with environmental health challenges. Keen on macro and micro-economic indicators, most efforts are channeled into economic development without considering how a spatial plan can catalyze such development as well as spread its benefits. Lessons from cities that have been planned, built and properly managed should as a matter of fact motivate newly developing countries to re-direct some energy. Urban sprawl over the years in most African cities can be attributed to a flat approach to development, which may have been informed by the government-led physical planning and development. The time preceding independence saw the de facto zoning of the growing Accra city into various land uses with the CBD in its current position. A somewhat conscious effort was made to separate the sparsely developed European part of the city from the native towns with roads radiating from the coastline. With a lineal settlement pattern, most towns and villages sprung up along the radials spreading population outwards towards the peripheral regions. Immediately after independence, the Nkrumah government continued with spatial planning as an integral part of the comprehensive 10 year development plan. This included the development of Tema as an industrial city, with its residential communities and linked to Accra by an expressway later named Kwame Nkrumah Motorway. However, the subsequent political instability ushered in a period of sporadic action and marked the decline of a conscious effort at spatially developing the country. Spatially, Accra now appears generally unplanned and characterized by overcrowding, substandard housing, and inadequate sanitation and other municipal services, especially in low-income areas. Tema, with 15% of the metropolitan population, is better-planned with clearly defined residential, industrial and recreational areas. Accra has prepared two master plans, one in 1944 and another in 1958. Some of the provisions of the 1958 Master Plan are now being implemented, for example the construction of the Tema Motorway Extension and the completed Independence Avenue

Augustine Ganiyu Adams BSc Planning, MSc Development Planning & Mgt Urban and Development Planner, Knowledge Management Practitioner Email:,

For the rest of the country, spatial planning has more been on a piecemeal basis, spearheaded by departmental heads or enthusiastic urban planners. Most of the urban centers have sector plans but have not been harmonized into comprehensive long term master plans. Consequently, growth beyond these urban centers into peripheral regions is uncontrolled and most instances leapfrogging. The apparent neglect of spatial planning is however not farfetched as an analysis of the anchorage of the sector shows. i. Misfit; the department of town and country planning which is primarily mandated to plan and manage the development of our living space has continued to be a misfit in the various political administration setup over the years. The department had been under 3 different ministries within the last 30 years; the Ministry of Works and Housing, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Ministry of Environment Science and Technology. This has often resulted in professional within the sector calling for the establishment of a planning authority or commission, independent of any ministry to avert the continuation of switching between ministries. Low budgetary allocation; as a result of the tier on which the department is placed, budgetary allocations to it has not been adequate. Subventions are currently channeled through the parent ministry of environment, science and technology which in itself received XX% of budgetary allocation this year. It is often thought that since returns from investment in the sector are not quick and easily quantifiable, it appears to be neglected. Also, because inactions within the spatial planning sector have a time lag of reaction and are relatively not fatal, the sectors importance tends to be downplayed Unattractiveness of sector; consequential of the low investment in the spatial planning sector and the inadequate policy and regulatory framework, working conditions are generally unattractive and retention of trained staff absent. Professionals within the public sector fraught with too many challenges often vacate their positions to take up more financially rewarding positions in general administration or switch to the fast developing private housing sector. Currently only the Kwame University of Science and Technology trains spatial planners, but after over 40 years of developing manpower for this sector, most of the 170 MMDAs around the country do not have a spatial planner with the existing majority nearing retirement. The Ghana institute of Planners continues to remain unattractive to practicing planners as its influence in policy formulation and implementation is yet to be seen. Low development of tools; as a result of the apparent low interest, support and practice of land use planning, the development and application of tools and new techniques and technologies has been on the downside. Geographic Information Science is yet to be fully integrated into spatial planning especially urban land use planning with its multivariate systems. Technology application in the sector has remained very rudimentary and tedious. Very few physical planning departments in throughout the country have digital maps, which form the basis of any application of technology. Political interference; so far three pieces of legislations have been promulgated to regulate land use and promote spatial planning. The oldest; Town and Country Planning Act (CAP 84) dates to





Augustine Ganiyu Adams BSc Planning, MSc Development Planning & Mgt Urban and Development Planner, Knowledge Management Practitioner Email:,

1945, the National Building Regulations, 1996 (LI 1630) to some extent and the latest being section 46 -56 of the Local Government Act, 1993 (Act 462). These laws have been flouted with impunity on many occasions to the point of being ignored. In some instance selective application of the land use regulations have resulted in long legal tussles, thereby discouraging public officials and planning authorities from stringent application. A direct consequence of all the numerous problems militating against the development of spatial planning and its integration into mainstream planning is the challenges in the provision of economic and social services and infrastructure. Some of the specific results are outline as follows. Slum development; ineffectiveness of physical development control has led to the development of slums across almost all our cities. 3 distinct types of slums can be identified, usually determinable by tenure and possibility of upgrading: Category A: originally planned areas with resident having secured tenure, but have been heavily developed and lost all sense of development control. At least 25% of any demarcated parcel of land for development is to be left undeveloped to cater for free movement, provide space for adequate aeration and ventilation. However as a result of pressure on existing building by increasing populations, extensions are made to create room to accommodate the additional people and end up overdeveloping the parcel. This category of slums is amenable but quite expensive due to their high property values and location in downtown. This is clearly evident in the case of James Town and Ussher Town in Accra Category B: no clear land use plans were drawn up for these areas and as populations moved in to develop had no basis to layout their development. Such areas may be covered by a master or structure plan, but not elaborate sector layouts. Usually, these communities are on the fringes of the urban space and had low values, permitting the low to middle income group to acquire them. Upgrading of such slums is possible and generally easier. Typical examples are Dome, some parts of Madina and Abeka. Category C: Settlements in this category tend to be squatter settlements with no tenure and accommodate vulnerable groups. In most instances, these areas are left undeveloped by design as they serve as buffer zones along rivers, power transmission lines or railway tracks. Migrants and the very poor settle in these places constructing makeshift structures of wood, plastic sheeting or metal plates. City authorities and land use planners often abhor such developments and tend to use force to remove them. Consequently, no upgrading actions are allowed for this category, with Sodom and Gomorrah being a classical example. Urban decay: without adequate land use planning to sustain the economic growth and development of the city, ever increasing land and rental values drive away business to other parts of the urban space, which in itself serves to redistribute wealth and economic activities. On the other hand, properties left by relocating business fall into disrepair as owners revenue streams dwindle and they look elsewhere to shore up capital. Consequently inactions in leveling up service provision and facilities are contributing to the blight generating slowly within some parts of our metropolitan areas. Transportation difficulties: without consciously creating room for essential uses, competing land uses especially for residential edge out the others. Even small alley ways and lanes are quickly taken up,

Augustine Ganiyu Adams BSc Planning, MSc Development Planning & Mgt Urban and Development Planner, Knowledge Management Practitioner Email:,

seriously impeding the movement of people and vehicles. With the increasing number of vehicles on the roads, mere expansions into dual and then 3 way roads do not necessarily reduce the congestion. New roads can take some through traffic around built up areas, but unavailability of land previously reserved and acquired by municipalities prevent such developments. It is noteworthy that transportation is an essential link in every economy and where there are difficulties, the economy tends to be sluggish Weak inter-sectoral linkages: Opportunities arising from the agglomeration of businesses is often lost due to the haphazard location of businesses, especially industries. Without adequate planning for the siting of industries, their cost of operations tend to be high due to difficulties either encountered in acquiring inputs, processing or distribution. In the light of all these problems and effects of inadequate attention and practice of spatial planning, it has become even more necessary to reverse the situation as some impacts are already being felt around the nation. Also, with the discovery of oil and the boost in the extractive industry, the anticipated influx of people, investment and businesses into the country and the western region in particular need to be managed and channeled to help attain our national aspiration if Ghana is not to find itself in the position of some failed oil-economy countries. The arguments for encouraging and investing in spatial planning cannot be over-emphasized. This is because the current remedial actions being contemplated are already daunting and grow with time. Thoughtfully and thoroughly planned cities remain a catalyst for a boisterous economy as resources move about unhindered and efficiently. If for nothing at all, beautiful cities draw the tourists to jumpstart the local economies.