“In December, 1946 government established the Port Harcourt Planning Authority with an area of jurisdiction of some 25 square miles between 1947 and 1955,”
A common challenge confronting most cities in the world, particularly in this modern era, is that of appropriate physical town planning. Population explosion and urban drift have compelled several cities to alter already existing plans as to contend with new physical and industrial revolutions not envisaged by past planners.
The situation is being worsened by the inability of persons to adhere strictly to existing plans of towns especially in the underdeveloped world where issues of physical town planning are easily compromised.
The concept of town planning is aimed at achieving orderliness in the use of land and siting of buildings, communication routes and other structures to secure the maximum practicable degree of economy, convenience and beauty.
Dr. Chris Ibeakuzie, in his observation said the rate of urbanisation is on the increase around the world while urban population has not been matched with investment on required infrastructure and services thereby lagging behind demands in operation and maintenance of existing stocks which often than not are compromised.
He noted that in the case of developing countries, including Nigeria, the consequences of this poor planning and infrastructural maintenance on economic growth caused social break down such as exposure of urban population to health risks, stagnant productivity, property damage and increasing production cuts through congestion, accident and traffic jams.
“A liveable city is one that meets the needs of its citizens for clean air, and water, adequate housing, safe streets, secure public spaces, ease of movement, jobs and economic opportunity, and basic services such as education, health care and sanitation,” said Ibeakuzie.
The town planning expert in his address during the “2009 Planners Night and Annual Dinner” organised in Port Harcourt recently commended the Greater Port Harcourt City of the present administration led by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, observing that the city of Port Harcourt is undergoing visible transformation in terms of new construction projects and in the expansion and maintenance of existing infrastructure, all at making the city liveable for the citizens.
In his own lecture at the dinner, Dr. Victor Obinna of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Rivers State University, Nkpolu, Port Harcourt traced the origin of town planning in the country to six decades ago through 1946 town and country planning Ordinance which he said succeeded in erecting a clear legislative and administrative framework for physical planning throughout the country, including Port Harcourt.
“In December, 1946 government established the Port Harcourt Planning Authority with an area of jurisdiction of some 25 square miles between 1947 and 1955,” he said.
It would be recalled that in 1959, Mr. Y. Elon, a Professor of Haifa University, Israel and a professional town planning adviser was commissioned to produce a new master plan for Port Harcourt, following Shell-BP’s decision in 1957 to move its headquarters from Owerri to Port Harcourt and the anticipated changes to the latter.
The plan then was to provide for a population of about 250,000 persons, a new industrial estate at Trans Amadi that covered an area of 2,500 acres and provided industrial sites with roads and rails access and a new low density residential layout known as Government Reserved Area (GRA) Phase 1.
Dr. Obinna said with creation of Rivers State in 1967, the immediate post-war years were marked by intense reconstruction activities. The first military Governor, Alfred Diete-Spiff demonstrated boldness in the reconstruction of the state by commissioning a Swedish Planning firm – Specialists Konsult to prepare a Master Plan for Port Harcourt to cover the period 1975 – 2005 while Nickson and Borys was contracted to prepare an urban renewal Master Plan for Diobu and Borikiri.
Apart from the effort of Diete-Spiff, there were other efforts as the introduction by the Ibrahim Babangida Federal administration of the Landmark Urban and Regional Law Decree 88 of 1992 and the Rivers State Physical Planning Development Law of 2003.
The university don who noted that the British effort to a large extend succeeded in inculcating a physical planning culture in Port Harcourt, adding that the essential character of the city and unique attributes that made it a Garden City were traceable to the efforts of the colonial administrators and town planners.
He however regretted that the high standards set by the post colonial physical planning in Port Harcourt has not been maintained leading to new problems which made the city chaotic in recent times.
He recommended the following steps as possible ways out.
There should be concerted efforts to improve the technical capacity of Planners in the state through exposure to modern planning departments overseas.
It is necessary to define the role of planners in the Ministry of Urban Development Vis-à-vis those in the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, as well as create a frame work for planners to function at the Local Government Council level.
There is need for sustained funding to implement plans in the face of criticism and opposition.
It is expedient to seek and sustain consensus through constant dialogue and full public participation and transparency in plan implementation process.
Planners deal essen-tially with four systems at the national, regional, sub regional and community levels. In Rivers State there is great focus on the last, as epitomised by the GPHC example.
Finally there is need to ensure continuity in plan implementation through appropriate legislation.
Experience has shown that Nigerians are loathe to continue with what others started. The GPHC dream, for instance, must not die when this administration is no longer in office.
However what could be termed the most pragmatic effort by the Rivers State government is the on-going Greater Port Harcourt City initiated by the Governor Rotimi Amaechi Administration.
Apart from given it proper legal backing by state legislation, the administration budgeted a wholesome N50 billion and constituted a body led by Mrs Aleruchi Cookey Gam.
The plan incorporated about eight out of the twenty-three local government areas of the state in its new urban renewal exercise added to massive expansion outside what was then known as old Port Harcourt and its environs.
The law has to be amended to give the power to recommend by the board to the honourable commissioner of Urban Development, Barrister Osima Gina.
The Law also gives a 7-day mandate to owners of illegal structures to remove them failure to which government would demolish and compel owners to pay for the cost of demolition. The law did not spell out how much and who determines the cost to be paid.
Aside that, the law did not also state what happens to the owner in form of penalty of he or she fails to pay the money to the government.
It is noticed that while massive demolition of the illegal structures have been going on in the state, but the government has not so far compelled any offender to pay any sum encountered by the Ministry of Urban Development in the course of the demolition exercise.
The law known as Rivers State physical planning and Development law 2003 abrogated all existing laws on physical planning and development control in the state and gave the urban renewal authority such responsibility.
Another aspect of the law provides for the existence of Land and Survey Bureau to be supervised by a special Adviser who should recommend persons to constitute a board.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr. Samuel LongJohn at the dinner of the state town planners called for the assistance of the institute to resolve issues raised.
Mr. LongJohn disclosed that government will amend the law on physical planning to ensure correction of all observed lapses for effective implementation of the law at both state and local government levels.
A pioneer member of the Port Harcourt Horticultural Association, Chiefs Beatrice Agama, expressing gratitude to Governor Amaechi for initiating and has bold style of executing the urban renewal exercise said, the step has saved the city from being turned to a modern slum.
She however urged the administration to find ways of removing the heaps of waste caused by the exercise to make the city look clean.
Chief Agama also advised that land-lords in the city should have the consciousness of planting flowers and trees at the front of their houses for beautification, noting that government alone should not be left with the business of planting flowers and trees in the city.
To Chief Charles Elendu, in his own contribution said the idea of Greater Port Harcourt City by the present administration is the best thing that could happen to the state.
“Though the demolition exercise that goes with it is painful but it is of necessary. People have learnt their lesson such that even when you are asked to build your structure against plan, you won’t in future,” he said.
However, he appealed to the state government to sensitise those in the local government areas to begin to learn from the hard lesion because certainly with the way the world is going, it will get there sooner or later.