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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 3, Number 3 (HABITAT, 1995, 42 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Aim of the Network and Its Journal
View the documentForeword
View the documentImportance of Appropriate Building Codes and Regulations in Improving Low-Income Settlements Conditions in African Region*
View the documentKenya: Building Standards and Planning Regulations - The Kenyan Experience**
View the documentTanzania: Sustainability of Building Materials Supply in Dar es Salaam***
View the documentEvents
View the documentPublications Review
View the documentBack Cover

Kenya: Building Standards and Planning Regulations - The Kenyan Experience**

** By: Elijah Agevi, Coordinator, Shelter Forum, Nairobi, Kenya.

OVERVIEW

Early this century, a British colonial administrator in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, decided that the city needed a set of by-laws. A native of the Lancashire town of Blackburn, the resourceful civil servant wrote home requesting for a copy of the by-laws in use there. “Copy these out just as they are,” he directed a typist, adding “except whenever you see the word 'Blackburn', type 'Nairobi'”. Thus Nairobi acquired its first by-laws.

Apparently no one found much fault with these regulations even though tropical Nairobi - less than 200 kilometres from the equator - rarely has its temperature of 15$C, in summer or winter, while the residents of Blackburn have to endure with weeks, if not months, of below-freezing temperatures, harsh winter winds, snow, etc. Not until the 1970s was it pointed out that Nairobi roofs need not be strong enough to withstand six inches of snow!

Obviously, these imported regulations must have served the colonial settlers well then as they were based on the British concept of what constituted a satisfactory dwelling, which was largely influenced by the environment and climate back home.

Kenya has changed a great deal since then. But even though the colonial administrators quited more than 30 years ago, the building by-laws, standards and planning regulations have remained pretty much the same. No so with the country's population which at one point grew at an annual rate of 3.7 per cent - the highest in the world - nor the urban population, expanding at 8 per cent.

Nairobi and other major towns in the country have borne the brunt of this increase in humanity. Population growth and rising immigration from the rural areas, combined with increased unemployment, means that most people looking for housing and shelter in these urban centres are poor. Most end up in established informal settlement areas where they have increasingly encroached on public and private land. Today, informal settlements in Nairobi accommodate more than 70 per cent of the city's population on a meagre 6 per cent of the entire residential land area. The density in these settlements averages 750 persons per hectare, compared with 50 to 180 persons in the middle- and upper-income areas.

Therefore, even if the urban poor have the time to grapple with the tangle web of building regulations, they would have little hope of getting enough land to satisfy even the minimum plot requirements. And even if they are lucky enough to acquire the land, they are unable to afford the water, sewerage and electricity connections, let alone the materials required to make three-inch thick concrete floors and nine-inch thick walls throughout.

Various studies have revealed that, the current building by-laws, standards and planning regulations do not fully meet the construction requirements of urban poor. Although somewhat relaxed, the by-laws are still rather rigid and high so that their application has continuously accentuated the situation of affordable urban housing in Kenya.

There is, indeed, a consensus that the prevailing building norms and standards are obsolete and outmoded and, therefore, irresponsive to the contemporary urban shelter needs.

Mabogunje aptly sums up this situation by saying:

“Standards in developing countries tend to serve more as a means of social satisfaction than as a means of reconciling the shelter needs of the population with the maintenance of a reasonable level of environmental quality. They are so unrealistic that they are deservedly ignored by the majority of people in their efforts to solve their own shelter needs”.

Not surprisingly, the result is that more than half of Kenya's urban population live in settlements which do not conform with the official standards, norms and regulations. Clearly, there is need for innovative solutions to meet the annual 90,000 units of housing stock in urban areas. One obvious way is to redefine the building and planning regime to meet the needs of the majority of people with limited resources.

THE BUILDING REGIME

The application of building controls followed the colonial development of urban areas. The earliest attempts to introduce legislation related to building or planning in colonial Kenya can be traced to around 1900 when surveyors started planning camps and townships along the Kenya-Uganda railway, then under construction.

Nairobi, then a strategic camp along the line, was initially surveyed and planned by ex-military personnel working for the railway. However, it was not until 1926 that the Nairobi Municipal Council introduced its first comprehensive set of building and planning regulations. By then only Mombasa had some by-laws related to building. Introduction of various public health and building controls are linked to the development of towns such as Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret. These regulations formed the basis of norms adopted by local authorities administering smaller urban centres.

Today's building, planning and engineering standards, statutes and regulations are scattered in various legal documents, including town planning, land and housing laws, the Public Health Act and the Local Government Adoptive By-Laws. This situation is compounded by the fact that there are a host of government agencies responsible for policy, legislation, enforcement, and control of housing. The resultant confusion means that the existing statutes are, in some instances, contradictory.

The main statutes governing building standards, design and materials today are; the Building Code and the Public Health Act. Other statutes affecting housing development are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Legislation Having Impact on Housing Development

The Building Code, 1968, consisting of Local Government (Adoptive By-Laws) (Building) Order, 1968, and Local Government (Adoptive By-Laws) (Grade II Building) Order, 1968.

The Public Health Act Cap. 242, of 1972

The Housing Act, Cap. 177 of 1953

The Rent Restriction Act, Cap. 296, of 1959

The Landlord and Tenant (Shops, Hotels and Catering Establishment) Act, Cap. 301 of 1965

The Local Government Act, Cap 265 of 1977

The Land Control Act, Cap. 302 of 1967

The Streets Adoption Act, Cap. 406 of 1963

The Water Act, Cap. 372

Fire Inquiry Act, Cap. 103

The Land Acquisition Act, Cap. 295 of 1968

The Registered Land Act, Cap. 300 of 1963

The Guarantee (Loans) Act, Cap. 461, of 1966

The Sectional Properties Act. 1987

The Land Planning Act, Cap. 303, 1968

Of all these laws, the Public Health Act is, arguably, the most far-reaching in respect to the latitude it enjoys over building. For instance, the Minister of Local Government can only approve by-laws proposed by a local authority with the agreement of the Minister of Health. The powers contained in the Public Health Act also constitute the outstanding conflict between building legislation and the production of low-cost housing utilizing appropriate building materials and techniques.

It is important to note that the Act is specific on, inter alia, areas such as construction and materials to be used; space around buildings, lighting and ventilation of buildings, and sizes of rooms to be used for human habitation; repairs or demolition of unsafe, dilapidated or dangerous buildings, etc.

On the other hand, local authorities are empowered by sections of the Public Health and Local Government Acts to enact or make their own building by-laws or planning regulations.

CASE FOR APPROPRIATE STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS

Building acts, regulations and codes are the means by which authorities control construction activities for the purpose of ensuring safety and health in the built environment.

They, are, therefore, critical to all construction activities, particularly for low-income shelter where a single effort involving these procedures could lead to significant improvements. For instance, regulations and codes could be formulated for the construction of low-income settlements, incorporating types of building materials and construction techniques which are affordable to low-income groups.

Despite the critical role these laws play in the day-to-day lives of the majority of urban dwellers, the latter hardly participate in their formulation and implementation (see table 2). Obviously, the interests of the low-income population hardly matter if the highest standards are to be formulated! But the reality is that 40 to 70 per cent of urban dwellers in Kenya live in informal settlements where a substantial proportion of the construction depends on earth, timber-based products and other locally-available materials.

Local by-laws do not sufficiently cater for use of locally-based affordable materials for particular circumstances and emergencies prevalent in these settlements. They are, intact, specific on use of modern materials and techniques - cement and mortar, steel, electrical and mechanical installations - which are mainly for middle and high-income shelter, commercial or industrial developments. These are only affordable to a minority of the population. The result is very high building standards that are unaffordable by the majority of the low-income urban dwellers, giving rise to rapid growth of squatters and slums on public or private land, contravening the land-use controls and similar laws.

The volume of relevant legislation (see table 1) is also particularly confusing to developers and is compounded by the frustration caused by personal interpretations of these statutes as witnessed in several projects in Dandora and Umoja estates in Nairobi. Housing development is consequently complicated and sometimes made more costly by the difficulties in obtaining the necessary permission, particularly for low-cost housing. This scenario has made interpretation and application of these legislation slow, cumbersome and expensive. The situation is worsened by the many public, quasi-public and private-sector groups that have vested and, occasionally, conflicting interests in the implementation of these standards.

This nature of existing official standards and norms means that they are seriously considered by only a small proportion of developers. For the majority, the standards and regulations are unfortunately not fully applicable. This renders them inadequate and irrelevant to community needs and aspirations, particularly to residents in unauthorized and low-cost shelter settlements.

THE REVIEW PROCESS

Kenyan authorities have been aware of the inappropriateness of the building regulations to the majority of the population. Concerns over the existing building regime in independent Kenya were raised in the 1960s, when it became obvious that there was need for a critical appraisal of all legislation affecting human settlements in order to conform with current socio-political and economic trends.

Table 2. Agencies Responsible for Formulation and Enforcement of Residential Standards

AGENCIES

POLICY FORMULATION

STANDARD SETTING

PLAN APPROVAL

ENFORCEMENT

NOTES

Housing Department

X

X

NHC

0

0

PPD

X

X

X

Ministry of Health

X

X

X

X

Commissioner of Lands

X

X

X

COL uses both statutory & contractual measures

NCC

X

X

X

X

Local Authority

X

X

X

X

KP & L Co Ltd.

0

Water Authority

X

X

X

AG's Chambers

X

Courts

X

Provincial Admin/Chief

X

Chief may be used by LA to enforce

Lending Institutions

0

0

0

Employers

X

Labour Department

X

COTU

0

Architects/Engineers & Designers

0

Bureau of Standards

0

0

HRDU

0

0

Donor Agencies

0

0

0

Source:

Kenya Low-Income Housing By-Lay Study, Vol. 2

X

Public Measure

0

Quasi Government & private measures

COL

Commissioner of Lands

KP & L CO. Ltd.,

Kenya Power & Lighting Co. Ltd.,

COTU

Central Organization of Trade Unions

After independence in 1963, a new building legislation was prepared with the objective of providing regulations compatible with the needs, as seen then, of the country. The objective of the building code, which comprised the “Grade I” and “Grade II” Building Orders of 1968, was to produce permissive legislation which would enable experimentation and new ideas to be developed. In particular, the Grade II By-Laws were designed to enable the inhabitants of the agricultural peri-urban areas of municipalities to satisfy the building control requirements, but in a non-urban context.

Inspite of this new building code, the need, purpose and advantages for reformulating planning, building and infrastructural legislation and regulations was felt necessary. But a further review of the legislation was not a priority for the government, not even in the face of ample empirical evidence on the advantages of adopting appropriate standards especially in the provision of low-cost housing. Not until the 1970s, when the government undertook construction of mass housing schemes in major urban centres, (such as Dandora “I” estate in Nairobi) it became clear that houses will be unaffordable to the target groups unless certain changes were effected in the regulations.

In 1979, the government commissioned a major Low-Cost Housing By-laws Review Study, an action which placed Kenya on record as among the first Third World countries to undertake a comprehensive study of building by-Laws and regulations. The purpose of the study was to analyze and evaluate the performance of the existing building-control system and to develop measures to enhance its efficiency.

The study recommended specific measures to enhance efficient and rational urban development with particular emphasis on low-cost housing. It further recommended changes to the existing building code and the Public Health Act with a view to make them compatible with the needs of majority. It appeared that there was a consensus that the standards for low-cost housing had to be modified to make them applicable.

In the mid 1980s, an inter-ministerial and multi-disciplinary committee was constituted to devise ways and means to implement the now five-year old recommendations. The team successfully sought government approval to have those guidelines which do not require legislative changes adopted immediately. The government also supported entire revision of the building code and establishment of a central technical committee to coordinate and regularly monitor the performance of all building by-laws. Approval for legislative action on the building code was given, and the Ministers for Works, Housing and Physical Planning; Health; and Local Government, together with the Attorney General, urged the implementation of by-laws immediately. Unfortunately, even with Cabinet approval, none of the recommendations from the Low-Income Housing By-laws Review were implemented.

In the meantime, other significant efforts were being undertaken in the review process. These included a Town Planning Handbook produced by the Physical Planning Department and research publications by the Housing Research and Development Unit (HRDU), University of Nairobi. Encouraging milestones were also marked by the Nairobi City Commission's adoption of Planning Standards in 1988 and adoption of lower planning and building standards by major municipalities like Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Nakuru a few years later. But these were applied on an ad-hoc basis.

In 1990, a national seminar was held in Nairobi to highlight constraints to the implementation of the 1985 recommendations, and to formulate strategies to resolve them. The seminar had the objective of formulating a plan of action that would identify and recommend policy, administrative, legal, institutional and technical action. This led to the formation of a Task Force - under the leadership of the Ministry of Lands and Housing - to oversee and update the 1985 recommendations. It was also expected to prepare terms of reference for a Permanent Commission on building by-laws. The Task Force started its work with vigour but, unfortunately, again, the process was slowed down because of financial constraints.

While all members of the Task Force agreed about the need to update the regulations, not all agreed on the extent to which the rules should be changed. Some members from institutes or NGOs which had worked with grassroots communities and were more in touch with the reality of the situation were unable to persuade planners for the need to change. This group proposed that the members actually visit some of the informal settlements to research on what was really happening. Plans were devised to visit settlements in major and secondary towns, but financial constraints limited the trips only for Nairobi.

This strategy proved to be the key and was enough to convert the sceptics, who were amazed at how people were building and what they were building with. The members measured people's plots and the sizes of their rooms; they measured the thickness of the walls, and noted the materials used for both walls and roofs, and the water and sanitation facilities available; and counted the number of people living in each house.

This first-hand, eye-opening encounter with reality finally convinced the entire team that what was needed were not scaled-down standards with prescribed materials that everyone should build with, but minimum standards that everyone could start with. The standards had to be related to the performance of the materials used, without excluding the ready materials that most people used. They had to allow people to start with a very basic structure, and to build and add on as and when they wanted to and could afford to.

In 1992, funds were sought and consultants engaged to work with a reduced technical committee under the general guidance of the Task Force. The team presented a report containing standards that were flexible and enabled the use of inexpensive building materials and techniques, and affordable infrastructure and services. The report also contained a comprehensive dissemination strategy, and highlighted the changes that would not require legislative amendments and could be put to action immediately. Refined plans for the formation of a Permanent Board for updating building and planning standards on a continuous basis were also included.

“Code 92”, a set of amendments to the building code as applicable to low-cost housing, and a manual of “deemed to satisfy solutions”, were published in 1993 and disseminated to particularly local authorities. The revised by-laws were finally gazetted by the Minister for Local Government in 1995.

WAY FORWARD

More than a year since the revised by-laws were gazetted, few local authorities have actually adopted and implemented the regulations. However, some local authorities have already taken a liberal and enabling stand on the revised building by-laws and regulations. The local authorities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Voi, Nyahururu and Eldoret are some of the ones positively disposed towards the relaxed building standards. Supporting agencies include the National Housing Corporation, National Housing Cooperative Union (NACHU), the World Bank, USAID, GTZ and individual housing cooperative societies. NACHU-supported projects in Nairobi and Mombasa have also promoted use of lower building and planning standards, while lower standards have been applied in low-income city estates such as Umoja I and II, Dandora and Koma Rock.

Even where this has been done, implementation of reformulated or relaxed standards has been on ad hoc, and project-by-project basis and has only been achieved after costly and lengthy discussion. This has been partly attributable to poor information flow: lack of general institutional support at both local and national levels; inadequate resources; and administrative rigidities.

This trend has shown that the challenge of reformulating the building regime does not merely end with its official recognition. An effective dissemination strategy is currently in place to sensitise local authorities and the general public on the potential benefits that can be derived from applying the revised by-laws. The strategy includes organization of workshops for civic leaders, trainers and community-based leaders; and vigorous publicity through publications and the national media.

CONCLUSION

Inspite of the progress made in reformulating building regulations and standards, there is still need for a practical plan of action regarding implementation of the revised codes. Like in many other developing countries, the review process of building and planning regulations has been slow. The bitter lessons from this experience is that only limited success will be achieved if inconsistent methodology - which does not facilitate meaningful and effective local level participation - is applied. Revising planning, building and engineering standards must lap the locally-available appropriate resources, social values and environmental factors if they are to be accepted. The formulation process must also involve those on whom the decisions will impact on.

It is also clear that the lack of a single, and central authority to oversee the formulation and implementation process was largely responsible for the slow progress. A properly mandated organ is a must if the institutional inter-dependency evident in the review process is to be avoided. This calls for the establishment of a permanent, multi-disciplinary team comprising members from the public, parastatals and private sectors to provide the necessary administrative, legal and technical expertise needed for successful implementation of a revised building regime.

Finally, it should be noted that there is a need for a fully revised and practically implementable Building Code with various grades of standards (Grade, I, II and III). The consolidation of all the currently scattered building, planning and engineering statutes and regulations related to housing development will also streamline the policy, legislation, enforcement, and control of housing.