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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Columnist: Appiah-Opoku, Seth

The La gas explosion is a land use planning issue.

By: Prof. Seth Appiah-Opoku

The recent gas explosion at Labadi that resulted in the deaths of about 11 innocent people and over 40 victims who are still receiving treatment at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital and the 37 Military Hospital is a land use planning issue. Land use planning is a systematic process of identifying community goals and specific land use objectives, exploring and assessing the options available to the community, and choosing and implementing the best option. The ultimate goal is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of people and our environment.

Unfortunately, land use planning in Ghana is in a mess because of the absence of zoning ordinances and subdivision ordinances to guide growth and development. A zoning ordinance is a municipal government law that defines how property in specific geographic zones can be used. It regulates the use, placement, and height or bulk of structures. In so doing, it reduces externalities and land use conflicts such as the siting of a gas station in a residential area, as happened in the La Gas explosion, or the recently reported case of a filling station at Anlo Town, a suburb of Koforidua. A similar land use conflict that zoning ordinances could prevent is the siting of a noisy church in a quiet residential area that reportedly resulted in the firing of a gun in the Northern region of Ghana recently.

Similarly, a subdivision ordinance is a municipal government law that defines how a piece of land is to be subdivided into two or more lots for sale, transfer, or development. In other words, a municipal subdivision ordinance establishes standards for the division of lots or building plots and spells out the services and amenities a land developer needs to provide before a building permit is issued. Additionally, a subdivision ordinance establishes standards for streets, sidewalks, storm drains, water, and sewers. Finally, it ensures that a new development will have access to public utilities including adequate fire fighting accessibilities and power. The USA, Canada and other developed countries enjoy the planning benefits of these two municipal ordinances and there are useful lessons for Ghana.

The introduction of zoning and subdivision ordinances in planning at the municipal level is a panacea to not only filling station gas explosion injuries but also the annual flooding episodes, sprawl and traffic congestion in Accra and other major cities in Ghana. To be fair, most planners in Ghana will tell us they apply zoning and subdivision concepts in practice but it’s important to note that self-imposed concepts are not the same as municipal ordinances that require enforcement and policing measures by both the government and the general public. Land use planners and politicians in Ghana must strive to introduce municipal zoning and subdivision ordinances to guide urban growth and development.

The writer teaches land use regulation and planning at the University of Alabama, USA. He is a certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners and a member of the Steering Committee overseeing the preparation of a 40-Year Development Plan for Ghana.