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Opinions of Thursday, 15 October 2009

Columnist: Addae-Bosompra, Ernest

‘Accra Shopping Mall’- Right Solution: Wrong Location.

A look at key proven strategies for the future.

An Introduction

As a student of Town Planning in the United Kingdom in the 1980’s, reference was often made about the ideals that underpinned the Town planning Movement. Ideals that were founded on one simple idea: equality. I learnt very early in my chosen career, when visiting cities all over Europe and America, how social reformers used the medium of physical plans to eradicate the social problems of over crowding, poverty, ill health, unemployment, unsanitary and inadequate living conditions. The social reformers found unacceptable the erosion of the “just society”. To them planning was about equity. “A fair chance for all” John Ratcliffe in his book “An Introduction to Town and Country Planning”- the first book I read as a student on this subject stated the following; “The very need for planning arose out of the inequality, deprivation and squalor caused by the interplay of free-market forces and lack of social concern. The market operating alone does not provide the most appropriate location for what are generally described as the non-profit-making use of land, such as transport infrastructure, gasworks, roads and sewerage plants. Nevertheless, the correct siting of these non-profit-making uses of land can render the profit-making uses of land more profitable. Proximity and accessibility to these various services and activities are often essential to commercial viability. Thus planning assists the market in becoming more efficient.” (Ratcliffe 1974 Pg 5) The dramatic transformation of Ghana into a peaceful, democratic and respected country on its way towards industrialisation and modernisation is well documented. As we enter a new phase of urban programmes and economic investment in our country our cities confront us with a complex range of physical, social and economic problems. Accra the capital city is experiencing a period of deep and widespread transformation stemming from the distribution of wealth and investment, and the use of the car. This has become a matter of national importance and debate.

This article claims that new retail and leisure developments have the potential to increase demand on roads and public transport resources to the detriment of the city. However, these developments can be located and designed in a way that minimises that impact and improves rather than degrades the environment. The article examines some key strategies for the future that are designed to minimise the impact and improve the environment.

Strategies such as (i) A sequential approach to site selection, (ii) the integration of transport and land use and (iii) Section 106 Agreements to deliver contributions are proven strategies that have been used by Town Planners to deliver the right location. At the heart of these proven strategies is the simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for future generations in our beloved city.

My personal experience of Ghana’s planning system is not as a practitioner but as a consumer. I have often heard references being made to hopelessness and fatalism about a system which has led people to accept that they are without power and should withdraw from any attempts at change. For the sake of coherence, this article about Accra is not an exercise in politics and therefore do not let your capricious instincts judge me yet.

I have chosen the subject area because it best reflects the realities and problems that I think has besieged our beloved city – Accra. My unfailing optimism about this great capital city knows no bounds. This article is a journey for freedom’s cause and an attempt to capture hope. Hope that says ‘the future can be better than the past’. My aim is to increase knowledge and create awareness. The goal is about equality- “A fair chance for all “

Accra – A synopsis

The earliest known settlers on the stretch of coastline now named Accra were the Kpesi people. Ga-speaking migrants settled in Accra in the 16th Century. The first coastal settlement was just to the east of the korle Lagoon. This was the original settlement out of which grew the two oldest adjoining parts of present-day Accra; namely, James Town and Ussher Town. The European forts were built in the middle of the 17th Century. The forts of Accra were used as places for holding slaves and for the storage of merchandise.

Accra became the capital of Ghana in 1877. Firms, missions and other bodies as well as government, have made it their headquarters. Accra has grown rapidly from a homogeneous fishing village into the heterogeneous modern city of today. The Governor, Sir Gordon Guggisberg between1919 to1927 administered the country and effected great changes. The Korle Lagoon Bridge, Korle Bu Hospital and Achimota Secondary School were all built in his day. In 1927, the north of James Town, Tudu and Adabraka were developing as commercial and residential districts. Korle Gonno, Korle Bu, Mamprobi and Sabon Zongo to the west of the korle Lagoon were also developed at the time.

In 1939 a serious earthquake shook Accra causing considerable damage to properties. In an attempt to rehouse affected households the Government developed housing estates at Korle Gonno, Christiansborg, South Labadi, Kaneshie, Sabon Zongo and Abossey Okai. Labadi became part of the Accra municipality in 1943. After the 2nd world war areas north of Nima village became the ‘ Airport residential area’. In the 50’s and 60’s areas such as Roman Ridge, Dzorwulu, and Abelempke began to be developed. In the 70s areas to the north of Achimota began to be developed, such as Christian Village, West Legon, East legon, and Kwabenya. Accra’s current built-up dimensions are approximately 35km east to west by about 15km north to south. Structural adjustment policies encouraged by the World Bank have led to state controlled business reform and encouraged commercial growth. Foreign companies and expatriates benefited from great incentives to settle in Accra.

Today, the city has experienced a rise in the middle class and increased disparities in terms of economic opportunity. Consumer demand for convenience and quality goods have grown considerably and modern retail has been expanding at a very fast pace in the Ghanaian markets. Although some critics have questioned the impact of modern retail growth on emerging economies, it is generally considered beneficial as it produces a myriad of positive benefits that far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. A growth in the retail industry has been a catalyst for job creation, the reduction of protectionism, infrastructural improvements, improved standards of living, competitive advantages and economic growth.

The country is frequently regarded as a model developing country; positive economic benefits have been a consequence of democratic rule, good governance, socio-economic reform, growth strategies and efforts to control corruption. A growing economy and a commercial boom have resulted in unprecedented retail growth. Ghana has a total population of approx.25 million people, 35% of which are now urbanised. Over three million live in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. The 20 000m2 ‘Accra Mall’ is a mixed use development comprising retail shops, drinking establishments, restaurants and café’s, hot food takeaways, financial and professional services, with over 500 car parking spaces. It’s the first modern retail and leisure shopping centre in Ghana and will be comparable to other similar sized shopping centres anywhere in the world. The Johannesburg based Bentel Associates International (BAI), an internationally recognised and award-winning retail design experts designed this pioneering venture. The mixed use development was undertaken with the assistance of a Ghanaian partner. The multi-purpose mall is located along the northern end of the Spintex Road near the Tetteh Quashie Roundabout in Accra. Due to the gradient of the site, the centre has a lower level showroom area facing directly onto Spintex Road, whilst the main retail floor above is served by two entrances off a paved parking area. The second level, off the food court is situated centrally and has a cinema complex. Two South African retailers, Game and Shoprite, are the anchor tenants with a third, an entertainment/restaurant anchor called ‘Rhapsody’. The Mall is accessed from Tetteh Quarshie roundabout and exits onto the Spintex Road

The exacerbation of traffic in this area can be attributed to the location of the popular ‘Accra Mall”, in the eastern part of the city. Its location is reinforcing the precipitous decline of the city by way of endless dribble of cars onto Spintex Road and Tetteh Quarshie roundabout, (strategic routes) which serve residential and industrial enclaves to the east of Accra. This endless dribble from the Mall is choking vehicular movement on the Spintex Road, thereby eroding the vitality and viability of the area East of Accra.

Figure 1; Front elevation of Accra mall

Due to its location, unacceptable levels of traffic are growing by the day. This fact is irrefutable as those who use the roads daily will tell you that a single trip to the city centre will take you a whole day. Most families and businesses who use these roads on a daily basis now wake up at 4am to get ready for work and school in order to ‘beat the traffic’. Indigestion is prevalent as our children are known to have breakfast in their parent’s cars whilst being driven to school.

The output in industry fails to increase because workers spend the best part of the morning (times when productivity is at its highest) stuck somewhere in traffic. The city now wakes up just after midnight to start the day because of the need to beat the traffic. The fact is ‘traffic’ is getting worse and the prognosis spells doom for our City. Alarm bells must ring, because we cannot afford to travel on this precipitous road; neither can we accept the status quo. This is a menace that will cost us dearly as a nation if we do not tackle the root causes.

The upsurge of residential/commercial development in the east of Accra such as Manet, Regimanuel, Devtraco, Coastal estates and extensions to Teshie Nungua estates have created additional demands on transport infrastructure and services in this part of Accra. Developments of such magnitude should have had a transport interchange to match the infrastructure and services that large residential developments require. The failure to integrate the regeneration of the area with a transport infrastructure at the same time has led to the environmental degradation of the area. This is led to the precipitous decline of the whole city

Strategies for the future

(i) A Sequential Test Approach The Sequential Test Approach is a planning principle that seeks to identify, allocate or develop certain types of land or locations of land before others. Wherever possible, growth should be accommodated by more efficient use of land and buildings within existing town and city centres. The sequential Test is necessary because of the assumption that easily accessible shops and services are valuable in that they do not encourage reliance on car-based transport and contribute to a wide range of shopping opportunities. Retail proposals are to be located in sequentially preferable locations. The first choice should be locations within existing centres, then edge-of-town centre locations or out-of-town centre locations. An applicant in a test must proof that there are no more central locations.

It is considered that ‘Accra Mall’ is not in a sequentially preferred site because there is no justification at all for not being able to locate such a large retail and leisure development in a central location or in a city centre. Accra’s city centre satisfies the test in that large scale retail developments are a major generator of travel and should therefore be located where there is easy access by a choice of means of transport. The test is based on the notion that the city centre offers the best location for large scale shopping centres where the proximity of competing businesses facilitates competition and benefits all consumers. Accra’s city centre offers a wide range of existing shops, services and facilities.

It is also a proven fact that the availability of a central location or existing Town centre location for a retail development would contribute to the reduction of car journeys by promoting linked trips with other commercial activities. For example, a visit to a city centre retail and leisure development could also lead to a visit to ‘makola market’ to buy groceries and to the post office to dispatch letters and the bank for money. This keeps all your activities in walking distance. A Town centre retail development does not seek to restrict competition whilst also seeking to reduce the number of journeys by the private car.

There are those who doubt that Accra Central is not capable as the preferred location for large retail and leisure development schemes because the area is in decline with very poor surroundings. I don’t share these negative sentiments and neither should you. There are proven planning tools that can be used to promote and improve the viability of Accra City Centre such as Action Area Plans, Compulsory Purchase Orders, transport strategies, land assembly, crime prevention measures and town centre management.

(ii) Integration of land use and transport We must seek to integrate transport and land use planning including the provision of additional transport facilities where new developments creates additional demands on transport infrastructure and services.

All development proposals should be assessed for their transport impact on the environment and the transport network. This includes their contribution to traffic generation and impact on congestion and air quality. The availability of public transport and its capacity to meet increased demand should also be considered. When areas to the east of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly boundary (Teshie Nungua as its southern boundary and the Tema Motorway as its northern boundary) are measured against factors such as contribution to traffic generation and impact on congestion and air quality they fail. The incapacity of the existing residential sites and infrastructure in the area east of Accra to accommodate additional dwellings is self evident. There is now significant impact on the transport network as most households and businesses that use these roads especially Spintex road on a daily basis will testify. Most wake up at 4am to get ready for work and school in order to ‘beat the traffic’. The prediction is that as traffic grows they will have to wake up earlier at 3am.

The experience of Nigeria emphasises the point. The federal government in the 70’s and 80’s tried to curb the significant impact on the transport network ( what was popularly called ‘go slow’) and reduce pollution in Lagos by introducing a system of rotation for odd and even numbered registered vehicles using the cities roads. Although it worked initially when even numbered vehicles will use the roads on Monday and odd numbered vehicles the following day, most households eventually acquired more than one car in order to have an odd and even numbered vehicle for every day of the week. The rotation system failed and the Federal government moved to a newly built capital city - Abuja.

We can prevent having to move to a new city by using Land use policies as a tool to contribute to reductions in travel demand by directing particular activities to those locations well served by public transport. The fact that the City has seen an overall increase in traffic is not to be understated. This growth in traffic can be attributed to such factors as an increase in the number of households, an increasingly mobile workforce, an increase in children being driven to school and increasing affluence leading to greater car ownership. The growth in traffic levels is forecast to continue and with it the consequential impact on air quality, road safety and overall environmental quality.

Integration of transport and land use means that, the pattern of urban growth must be actively managed and the location of major travel generating developments should make the fullest use of public transport. This may require the phasing of sites being released for development, in order to co-ordinate growth with public transport improvements, and ensure it is well related to the existing pattern of development.

The term “ phasing of sites” originated from the United kingdom where ‘Development plans’ ( comparable to Accra master plan) are typically prepared for 10-15 year periods, but in relation to housing land, it may include policies to phase the release of such land. This divides the housing land allocation up into a series of blocks, typically of five years, so as to ensure that in areas of development pressure the total allocation is not taken up too early in the plan period. Phasing of sites prevents urban sprawl or what is also called ‘Leapfrog development’ (bypassing vacant land closer to the city). The strategic phasing of sites means less roads, less water lines, less sewage services, less schools, less police stations, less transport infrastructure and fire protection which means less tax for the taxpayer.

(iii) Section 106 Agreements (Planning Obligations)

These legal agreements or ‘Planning obligations’ as it is often called are tools that can work as strategies aimed at developers. They are not agreements used within the Ghanaian Planning system, but are a proven strategy that is freely used in the United Kingdom to offset negative impacts caused by construction and development. They can however be adopted to suit our needs.

The term ‘Section 106 Agreements’ emanated from Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 of England and Wales and allows a local planning authority (LPA) to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission. Examples of contributions range from the provision of affordable homes and new open space to funding of school places to employment training schemes or contributions for transport infrastructure.

The developer will either implement these or make payments to the Government for them to be carried out. All Section 106 agreements must be relevant to the development they relate to. Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be: necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms, directly related to the proposed development, fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development, and reasonable in all other respects.

Developers must therefore be made to demonstrate that their development is adequately served by a variety of modes of transport and will not have an adverse effect on transport in the vicinity of the site. Where public transport is inadequate or where the development will require additional facilities to be provided to meet this policy, the planning authority will require developers to contribute towards measures in the vicinity of the development.

This strategy can be applied to any large retail and leisure development in Accra. In the case of ‘Accra Mall’ the developer must be made to contribute towards public transport services and infrastructure and traffic reduction measures. Contributions must only be sought through planning obligations where they can be used to increase travel choice and reduce the environmental impact of additional traffic generated by the development.

Consequently, development that is in the wrong location should be refused planning permission and developer contributions may be considered inappropriate and will not be taken as a substitute for ensuring that the development is correctly located. The growth in the retail industry has been a catalyst for job creation, infrastructural improvements, improved standards of living, competitive advantages and economic growth. However these benefits can only be realised if it’s the right development, in the right location and at the right time. ‘Accra mall’ as already indicated is in the wrong location and as a result should have been refused planning permission. However, in this case I believe developer contributions may be appropriate. This will ensure that the money is used for traffic reduction measures, and the improvement of public transport infrastructural development.

Contributions are justified because it is fair to say that since its inception the ‘Accra Mall’ will have increased in market value. As a multi million dollar investment, its current success ensures that all the businesses within the Mall are viable concerns. This is an essential criterion for adding value. Its valuation may have added millions onto the initial development value. For example, if the scheme cost 30 million dollars (estimate based on information available on Accra Mall website) to develop, its current market value could be between 40-45 million dollars. The additional 15 million dollars is added value for the owners. Although it is not possible to make all development acceptable in transport terms even if significant contributions are offered by the developer, the environmental degradation besieging our city can be mitigated through contributions by the owners of this premier retail and leisure development.

Epilogue

It is important that large scale retail developments are directed towards existing town centres. It must be a matter of national policy. Town Centres must be protected against high quality retail destinations such as Accra Mall or the town centres will be at risk. The success of ‘Accra Mall’ in attracting high quality retailers illustrates the threat that they pose to our city centres and town centres.

There is a need to set limits on how out of centre developments are to operate and to retain strict controls or limitations on the maximum size of floor space. This is necessary because, there is a vulnerability of town centre to competition from out of centre locations like ‘Accra Mall’. It is important to retain the confidence of existing and potential retail operations and investors in Accra’s Town centres and City centre locations.

Ernest Addae-Bosompra BA (Hons) MA MRTPI is a Chartered Town Planner with the London Borough of Bromley. Email ; addaeb@hotmail.com