Covid-19 And Echoes Of Apt Urban Planning
The coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the world comes with great lessons on the importance of planning in all its ramifications be it social, economic, spatial or sectoral. For instance, responses to the COVID-19 disease, world over, have exposed the need for adequate planning of infrastructural facilities and services to meet challenging periods.
This is more so as we lockdown and begin to value the presence of services such as markets, malls, fire and police stations in and around our communities. Viewed against this backdrop, the incessant abuse of urban planning laws, with the effect that designated land uses are traded off, space for social amenities is reduced and accessibility becomes a problem for emergency responders whilst building collapse disaster looms, becomes worrisome.
Various reasons can be adduced for the disregard of physical planning laws and they include ignorance of the law or poor attitude to planning; delays in the approval process; preference for cutting corners; activities of touts in the industry; quality control gaps and the complicity of planning officers.
Lagos, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, grapples with the wanton violation of building codes by its residents. To arrest the spate of illegal developments in the State, the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development instituted various measures, including mandating estate developers to register their layout and obtain government approval, declaring “Zero Tolerance for illegal buildings” and embarking on operation “Show your Planning Permit”
In line with the foregoing, the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr. Idris Salako had warned against the contravention of the State Planning and Development Control Laws as they are the principles and major instruments for bestowing a balanced and sustainable environment. Commenting on a particular instance of the illegal development of wetlands, he vowed that: “the Ministry would continue to implement the State’s Policy of Zero Tolerance on all illegal physical developments, including the regrettable encroachment of the sensitive ecological zones, in order to preserve and guide against the misuse of all Greenbelts, Gorges, Water bodies, Wetlands and other vulnerable natural Landscapes in every part of the State”
However, some close watchers of the built sector in the State have complained that the long approval process has subjected hapless property owners and developers to the antics of some errant officers who, taking advantage of the system, milk their preys dry and sometimes aid the contravention of Physical Planning Laws. And when the government moves to remove illegal buildings or hand out penalties, owners of such buildings are the victims.
In order to address challenges in the building permit approval process, ease the burden of the people and improve her ease of doing business rating, Lagos State has begun the move to fully automate the process through the upgrade of the electronic planning permit (epp) platform.
The platform will receive and process applications for permit in real time, thereby reducing physical contact with officers of the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA). The other aspect of this reform is the digitisation of the monitoring process by automating the workings of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) for greater performance in tracking development activities in the Lagos built environment.
Steps have also been taken to democratise the process with the inauguration of the Lagos State Physical Planning and Building Control Appeals Committee by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on December 2, 2019. According to the Governor, the Committee, which is to mediate and balance the interest of the citizenry and government in disputes that may arise from actions taken in line with the State’s Urban Development laws, is part of the framework of the Lagos Urban and Regional Planning and Development Laws of 2010. The Laws provided for a public engagement channel for stakeholders and the citizens to convey their complaints to the Government.
In the words of the Governor: “This Committee is such an important body to the finality to the laws setting up the physical planning regulations that we have in Lagos. It is the first time we are inaugurating this Committee, which is an independent body that is not only meant to advise the Ministry, but also to advise the Governor, because its members are to give the citizens an independent view about things we are doing”
It should be noted that both LASPPPA and LASBCA, responsible for approving physical developments and ensuring quality control respectively, are critical to the fulfillment of the assigned tasks of the Appeals Committee. Therefore, an advantage of this novel ombudsman in the built environment is that it will bring activities of these sister agencies under its close scrutiny and ultimately change the narratives of negative perception and instill confidence in the people about government procedure and process in the sector.
Expectedly, the Chairman, Tpl. Adeniran and members of his Committee have set to work by engaging officers of the two agencies with the warning that it would no longer be business as usual since the Committee is poised to hear petitions on erring officers and address infractions in the system.
In ensuring a balance between government activities and public interest, the Lagos State Physical Planning and Building Control Appeals Committee has the power to: investigate petitions and complaints relating to Physical Planning Permit, regeneration and building control; address complaints relating to the granting of Planning Permit and; hear all public complaints on decision concerning Approvals and demolition.
An important aspect of the law setting up the Committee is that the petitioner has the liberty to appeal the decision of the Appeals Committee at the high court and can go as far as the Supreme Court, if decision does not meet his expectations.
It is glad to note that the Appeals Committee, long awaited by stakeholders in the sector, is now in place to clean the Augean stable and change the perception of the people about activities of both the LASPPPA and LASBCA.
Sanusi is Assistant Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Alausa, Ikeja