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Optimism grows on setting up of one-stop building approval centre




An excavator at the Southend Mall along Lang’ata Road in Nairobi on August 30. The structure was demolished after it emerged it was sitting on riparian land. A one-stop shop building plan approval agency would curb such scenes, experts note. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Optimism is rife that the setting up of a one-stop building plans approval facility in 2019 could eradicate graft blamed for the Sh36.3 billion loss of opportunities reported this year.

In separate statements to the national government, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) say the tedious and complicated approval process makes construction expensive while hurting employment prospects for skilled and unskilled artisans.

Building experts, the county and national governments as well as construction material dealers and banks are also counting losses as the impediments have caused foreign-based investors to divert cash to more favourable markets.

In a terse letter to Housing and Urban Development CS James Macharia, AAK said the journey through multiple regulatory agencies by investors seeking approval hurts Nairobi’s quest of becoming an African Foreign Direct Investment powerhouse.

“Issuance of construction permits is dotted with long winding paths, unreasonably lengthy delays, high costs and numerous regulations to comply with and rampant corruption. AAK is willing to assist in establishment of a digitised one-stop shop facility.

“This will enhance accountability, better enforcement of construction laws making Kenya gain higher rating in the Ease of Doing Business,” AAK says in a memorandum signed by its president Emma Miloyo.

Governor Sonko avers that while the county had a digital platform to fast-track approvals, multiple agencies housed in separate government offices had made it impossible for local and foreign companies to launch operations within months after filing their applications.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics latest report on Leading Economic Indicators says Nairobi experienced a 17.7 per cent slump in the construction sector with a total of Sh169.3 billion real estate and commercial developments approved between January and October compared to Sh205.5 billion projects approved during a similar period last year.

The bad tidings have also hit listed construction and allied firms that saw them shed their values with ARM Cement, now under suspension, reporting a 57.31 per cent loss, Bamburi (26.67 per cent), E.A Cables (57.8 per cent) and E.A Portland settling for 40.74 per cent.

The KNBS report shows the commercial buildings space reported a 19.11 per cent drop valued at Sh15.1 billion compared to the real estate development’s 16.74 per cent drop worth Sh21.2 billion.

Cement consumption also dropped by six per cent to stand at 4.6 million metric tonnes in 2018’s first 10 months compared to 4.9 million metric tonnes during a similar period last year.

The slump could also have been affected by the now suspended demolitions blamed on wayward State officials who approved construction of buildings on riparian and road reserves as well as on public property hurting public confidence on land ownership papers.

Architectural firm, Boogertman and Associates managing director Andrew Kusewa adds the building laws and codes need to be urgently reviewed to establish a common building environment policy that embraces new technologies while creating safeguards to deter unplanned developments.

“Kenya can easily increase the scale of private real estate projects…..well-planned residential and commercial developments but our cost of borrowing is prohibitive. This has led to everyone going solo where we buy very small portions of land to put up houses or commercial facilities,” he says.

Mr Kusewa said this has denied Kenyans benefits attributed to shared services and utilities usually found in planned real estate developments that reserved space for all essential social amenities.

“It is easier to provide schools, sewerage systems, water and commercial centres as well as security on planned areas. But our individual units hurt the development plans making Kenyan urban areas look like slums,” he says.