Bisi Adedire is the new President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on the challenges posed by the recent increase in building planning permit rate in Lagos, growing mismatch between urbanisation and infrastructure provision, as well as why the government should integrate regional development plans.

The Lagos State government recently reviewed building planning permit rates, how do ATOPCON members take this new development? And what are the likely impacts on the real estate sector?
Well, thank you for the support The Guardian has shown towards the town planning profession over the years. It is crucial to acknowledge that the recent review of building planning permit rates by the Lagos State government has generated significant concern and negative feedback from ATOPCON members, developers and other professionals within the built environment and the society at large.

The incessant increase in these rates has understandably raised alarm bells. Members and stakeholders have expressed their dissatisfaction due to the substantial financial burden these hikes place on developers and property owners. These increases have made the process more cost-prohibitive and less accessible for many, which can lead to a host of unintended consequences.

One of the prominent negative impacts we are witnessing is the promotion of haphazard development and unprecedented contraventions. As the costs surge, some individuals and developers might opt to proceed with development without proper approvals, bypassing essential regulations and guidelines.

This, in turn, could result in buildings not meeting safety standards, posing risks to occupants and undermining the overall urban planning efforts, which can also result in building collapse. Moreover, these exorbitant planning permit rates could stifle real estate growth. The increased financial burden may deter potential investors and developers, ultimately slowing down construction projects and consequently, affecting job creation within the sector.

However, while we understand the government’s need for revenue generation and regulation, there is a pressing need for a balanced approach that ensures the sustainability of the real estate sector and promotion of responsible development. It is our hope that a constructive dialogue can be initiated to address these concerns and strike a more equitable balance between regulation and affordability.
Nigeria’s cities are witnessing rapid urbanisation and a mismatch between increasing population and level of infrastructure. How can the government respond to this?
Indeed, rapid urbanisation is a pressing challenge in the country. The government’s response should be multi-faceted. Firstly, there is a need for comprehensive urban planning that anticipates population growth and infrastructure requirements.

This should involve zoning, land use planning and ensuring adequate provision of essential services and allocation of resources to ensure that the expansion of cities is well managed and sustainable. Moreover, investment in infrastructure is crucial. Nigeria requires efficient transportation networks, reliable sanitation systems, accessible clean water sources, security, drainage, health, education, and maintenance of the existing ones as rapid urbanisation can exert pressure on the existing infrastructure.

These are the foundational elements for well-functioning cities and essential for improving the quality of life for urban residents. The government should explore innovative financing mechanisms, including public-private partnerships, to fund these critical infrastructure projects.

Furthermore, sustainable urbanisation should be a priority. This involves green initiatives such as creating green spaces within cities, promoting renewable energy sources, and encouraging eco-friendly building practices. Sustainable urbanisation not only improves the living conditions of city dwellers but also contributes to environmental conservation.

Addressing the housing deficit is another key aspect. The government can facilitate the development of affordable housing through incentives and policies that encourage private sector participation by equally tailoring these policies and incentives towards availability of land at an affordable cost, availability of building materials, streamlined institutional framework, such as reducing statutory fee payments for building approvals among others and help fund mortgage institutions to encourage prospective housing developers. In doing this special attention should be given to low and middle-income earners who often struggle to access decent housing.

Lastly, public awareness and participation are vital. The government should engage with communities and stakeholders to ensure that urban planning and development are inclusive and responsive to the needs of the people. This approach can lead to better-informed decisions and more successful urban development strategies.
A major move in the past towards promoting urban development was integrating development plans among regions, particularly the South-western states.
How can this help in addressing physical planning and urban development issues?
The integration of development plans among regions, especially in the South-western states, is a significant step toward addressing physical planning challenges, coordinated growth, reducing urban sprawls and urban development issues. It promotes coordinated and sustainable development across regions.

One can say, this integration fosters unity and cooperation among different states, ensuring that urban development is not isolated but interconnected. It facilitates the efficient allocation of resources and prevents duplication of efforts. It is a collaborative approach that promotes balanced and coordinated development across regions.

One significant advantage is the pooling of expertise and resources. Regions can share best practices and leverage each other’s strengths in addressing common urban challenges. For instance, transportation networks that span regions can be optimised for more efficient connectivity just like the Lagos-Ibadan Railway line cutting across Ogun State.

Moreover, integrated development planning allows for holistic solutions to issues such as transportation, environmental conservation and economic development. It facilitates the creation of comprehensive strategies that consider the broader impact of urban development on the environment, society, and the economy. It is important to highlight that such integration also streamlines administrative processes, reducing bureaucracy and enhancing the effectiveness of planning and development initiatives.

Now, you know that integrated development planning among regions is a powerful tool for addressing physical planning and urban development issues. It promotes cooperation, resource sharing, and holistic solutions, ultimately leading to more sustainable and well-coordinated urban development.

State governments have been inundated with flooding, slums, and other urban challenges. What should be the government and town planners’ role in mitigating these challenges?
When trying to mitigate challenges like flooding and slums it requires a collaborative effort between town planners and government. Firstly, town planners play a pivotal role in designing resilient and sustainable urban spaces. They can incorporate flood mitigation measures, green infrastructure, and affordable housing into urban planning.

Furthermore, town planners can work on urban renewal projects aimed at upgrading slums to a more habitable living condition. These projects can involve improving housing, sanitation and access to basic services.

On the government’s part, there is a need for robust policies and regulations that enforce proper land use and ensure that development adheres to safety standards. Investment in drainage systems, flood control infrastructure, and upgrading slums to more habitable conditions is also crucial through working with town planners on contemporary urban renewal initiatives.

However, the citizenry also has a significant role to play. Many individuals build in inappropriate locations, including drainage pathways such as canals, flood-prone areas and slums, which contribute to these urban challenges. Some even use slum areas for illegal activities, further worsening the living conditions and dumping refuse into drainage channels, which contributes to various urban challenges.

Citizens must undergo attitudinal changes, recognising the importance of responsible urban living. This includes refraining from activities that harm critical urban infrastructure. Moreover, addressing these challenges should be seen as an opportunity for sustainable urban development.

Town planners and authorities can work together to create urban spaces that are resilient to climate change, conserve natural resources and provide quality housing for all citizens.
With the creation of the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, what are your expectations from the minister towards improving housing supply and making cities liveable?
The creation of the ministry is a positive step toward addressing housing and urban challenges. Firstly, we expect the minister to prioritise affordable housing initiatives. As mentioned earlier, the need for promoting mortgage institutions with finances for housing projects, land availability at affordable costs, availability of building materials at reasonable costs. This also involves promoting public-private partnerships to increase housing supply, especially for low and middle-income earners.

Moreover, the ministry should focus on improving urban planning and infrastructure to create more liveable cities. This includes investments in transportation, sanitation, and green spaces. Encouraging sustainable building practices can also contribute to making cities more liveable by partnering with professional bodies/associations such as ATOPCON.

The minister should as a matter of urgency embark on the preparations and review of the National Physical Development Plan and other related plans and also work towards the development of inclusive urban policies that address the needs of vulnerable populations, ensuring that cities are accessible and equitable for all citizens.

Eight years after the adoption of the new urban agenda as a new vision for cities and municipalities, Nigeria seems not to have advanced in the implementation of the propositions. What are the issues and challenges?
The lack of significant progress in implementing the new urban agenda in Nigeria is indeed a concern as the agenda emphasises inclusiveness, resilience and sustainable urban planning. Several issues and challenges have contributed to this situation. Firstly, there’s often a gap between policy formulation and implementation due to bureaucratic hurdles and resource constraints.

Additionally, urbanisation is complex and rapid, which makes effective planning and execution challenging. Insufficient funding, limited technical capacity, and sometimes resistance to change can hinder progress. It is crucial for all stakeholders, including government, planners, and communities, to work together to overcome these challenges, align their efforts with the new urban agenda, and drive meaningful progress in urban development.

And that the new urban agenda should be seen as a framework for sustainable development that requires commitment, collaboration, and innovation from all parties involved in urban planning and development.
What are your plans to improve the profession?
My plan is to improve the town planning profession beyond internal initiatives. While we aim to strengthen our professional community, my vision also includes active involvement with the wider society and collaboration with allied professional bodies. You can say it will be an all-inclusive approach towards improving the urban planning profession

Firstly, our plans include actively engaging with our members and encouraging their continuous professional development. In addition, we recognise the importance of collaboration with relevant governmental agencies.

We plan to work closely with these agencies to align our efforts with government policies and initiatives. Collaborative projects can lead to better urban planning, more effective implementation of policies, and improved urban environments for all citizens.