Train make a stop over at Mtito Andei Terminus on the way to Mombasa on Monday 29/05/17 before the launch of Standard Gauge Railway(SGR) on Wednesday.PHOTO.BONIFACE OKENDO
The completion of the first phase now puts the focus on counties along the line to put in place plans to grow the areas around the ultra-modern stations or face a mushrooming of shacks and unplanned developments
When the government announced plans for Konza City, people fell over themselves buying land in the area. The result was rising land prices coupled with unplanned developments around the proposed site as speculators and genuine investors sought apiece of the pie.
Years later, the ‘silicon’ city is still plowing ahead slowly. Not far away, Malili is bigger than Konza, and home to a motley collection of buildings in no particular plan.
As soon as the government announced plans to develop close to 5,000 acres of land that straddles Machakos, Makueni and Kajiado counties, property around the site became a hot commodity.
On the other hand, the same mega infrastructure projects have also resulted in the mushrooming of unplanned settlements, a matter that has urban planners worried. Is this the fate the standard gauge railway will suffer? Without proper spatial planning along the new railway route, there will be nothing to prevent such haphazard developments from spouting up all over the place.
Proponents of the new line see such deliberate urban planning as key that unlocks the counties’ potential.
According to the managing director Kenya Railways Atanas Maina, the railway is meant to attract industrialists to the rural areas where they can manufacture goods for export through the acquisition of land at reasonable rates than in the city.
He says the construction of the new, unique stations further away from the previous ones is meant to open up Kenya’s rural areas for development.
“The railway has to accomplish the economic aspirations of the people of Kenya as a whole, especially the country’s development blueprint, Vision 2030. Thus, we aspired to have modern designs in very rural settings, showing the future transformation of Kenya into a middle income status through such enabling infrastructure,” he says. For example, Maina added that it would be possible to set up a factory, say in Emali, and have the goods transported to Kigali within a day or two.
According to the Town and County Planners Association of Kenya chairperson Mairura Omwenga, it is time for counties that lie along the route to come up with practical planning solutions or lose out completely on the benefits of the vital piece of infrastructure.
“The counties have no choice but integrate their plans with the new stations along the line or they miss out on development opportunities from the railway,” says Omwenga. Noting that the lines passes through wildlife corridors that attract tourists from all over the globe, Mairura says counties such as Taita Taveta and Makueni ought to think in terms of laying infrastructure that supports tourism activities. “It should now be possible for tourists to arrive in Mtito Andei and Voi within two to three hours of leaving either Nairobi or Mombasa. Quick thinking entrepreneurs should now be working with the county governments in coming up with good accommodation facilities near these stations,” says Omwenga.
But Kenneth Bii, the director of Plans and Physical Planning at Makueni County says the county has already mapped the main urban areas with a view to reshaping them in harmony with the new developments.
What SGR means to manufacturing sector
For example, Bii says, Mtito Andei is being positioned as the gateway to the county with an emphasis on making it a tourism hub. Kibwezi will become an agricultural zone where horticultural products can be cultivated.
But how will these counties deal with speculators? Bii says this will be done by limiting the confines of the commercial hubs as well as laying stringent laws on land sub-division to prevent the mushrooming of shanty towns.