By Victor Gbonegun
Consumed with the quest for economic gains, many investors in the hospitality industry and commercial real estate are adopting laissez-faire attitude to physical planning in the country.Rather than allowing the planning process to take its course, some of the developers prefer to “build first and seek planning retention afterwards” under the cover of some politicians and dubious town planning officials.
Some of the affected properties have racked up planning code violations, which include, not complying with existing car park and set back regulations, thereby contributing to the traffic congestion as well as time delays by commuters on the road in most cities, especially Lagos.Investigations show that due to lack of empty lands particularly in highbrow locations, some investors resort to the conversion of residential buildings, which often don’t meet basic requirements by the law.
Also, some operators go as far as deploying all available political and social influence to obtain planning approval to beat the regulations, which generally classified them as commercial land use with a minimum specification for size of land to be designated for car parks.Town planners say, inadequacies of existing physical planning and development regulations are contributing to the menace as current regulations and standard have been found to be unworkable and inimical to urban ecology. In addition, most of the old hotels and office areas are not well captured under the law.
According to the Lagos State Physical Planning and Development Regulations, 2005, section 22(3a) it states; two car parking spaces for every three hotel/guest rooms in residential zones, one car parking space for every three hotel/guest rooms in other residential zones and other land use zones, restaurant and conference room attachments are calculated separately in subsection (3) (b) and subsection (4).
Specifically, the law stipulates a car park per 60 square metres in a commercial building; a residential building requires a minimum of two car parks for a unit or flat. Also, developers of place of worship are required under the law to provide a car park per 10 square metres or one car park for every 10 worshippers while eateries are equally required to provide a car park per 35 square metres.
But, in reality, those measures doesn’t seem to work anymore, a visit to a popular hotel in Ikeja GRA, and other hotel/office locations in the state especially in Aromire area recently, showed that some of the guest to these places park their cars outside such premises due to shortfall in the facility.Speaking on the issue, the President, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON); Mr. Idris Salako explained that what the law says in the real sense is not working in tandem with the physical manifestation of the specifications.
He said, “The initial laws for commercial- hotel stated 90per square metres but a commissioner came and said; change it to one car park 60 per square metres. Then some people complained that it is too drastic but we still notice that the sixty per square metres is not enough. By the time you calculate it in-line with what the law says, some of the hotels might meet up with the required standards. I think we have issues from the onset about the size of land”.
“In some places, if you want to start a hotel, the law may states; 2,000 squares metres as minimum for car park space and when you look at the facility alongside, it may okay but when the hotel starts operations, the high way may be jam-packed with cars. We may need to look at our laws again. When we review the law, we should be looking at the plot sizes with regards to facility. The standard that we are using is against the environment”, he said.
Contributing, a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Lagos; Leke Oduwaye emphasised that what the law states with respect to Lagos state is; one car park per 60square metres floor area that excludes stair case because it’s not a lettable area.He stressed that there is a minimum for the size of the land, which is 1,000metres square.
“It is two car park per floor unit, where you have four flats, you require eight-space for car parks, which could be easily met once you have the setbacks in front and some spaces by the sides. That is the standard for residential building converted”. He blamed the development on the height of indiscipline on the part of some officials of government who work in planning office but failed to ensure that what is in the planning/design of hotel is what the operators actually build.
“Building control is the major problem because you would rarely see a planning officer approving something that doesn’t conform to the regulation on paper. If we go against the right plans, urban area has a way of fighting back. The Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) is relatively new and most of the hotels we are talking about have been in existence for over ten years and so it’s a problem to control”.”Professionals within the built sector also have a blame too, because they are suppose to pi-point disparities between designs on paper and what is on project site”, he stated.
Prof. Odunwaye who is also an architect called for strict monitoring of plan approvals and engagement of highly knowledgeable officers to oversee issues of the built industry.For the President of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Luka Bulus Achi, every service point suppose to have a design capacity as to how many cars it could accommodate but in a situation where there too many guests, people park anyhow in their locality.He “Many of the car parks in churches, hotels and offices are fixed but we keep adding more cars and population keeps increasing leading to chaos in urban locations. The issue of control is also there and I believe that it’s the government that should do their best in that regard. But in recent times, the indiscipline has grown too a level that officials just do what suite them and don’t care about the regulations”.
“The planners make an anticipatory projections overtime and give approvals on the number of cars a place would take but must importantly, authorities need to know where to put certain land uses like; offices, churches and hotels, it must be selective in relations to the rest of traffic movement of the city. So that it would not add unnecessarily to traffic problems rather reduces congestions.
According to him, there was the need to declare car ownership in the city while people must as well shun the toga or status symbol of driving to every location.
“Our public transport system must be improved on, to encourage the people in using public utilities. People always feel that they should always drive their own car to every places”.
Similarly, Dr. Moses Olubunmi Ajayi, a renown town planner said regrettably, majority of the operators of churches, hotels and offices are not aware of existing regulations on car parks, blaming the situation on inefficiency of government and its agencies.According to him, authorities need to embark on massive and aggressive enlightenment of the operators on the existing regulations, if there are any, before talking about its enforcement.
In a reaction, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Titilayo Ajirotutu said all the recent buildings after the new building planning law comply with the regulation on car parks. She explained that the agency doesn’t give approvals to new hotels, banks or offices that make no provision for car parks.
She said; “We don’t give approvals to hotels, churches/offices without car parks. Perhaps those are the old buildings that have been in existence for long time ago. How do you regulate them in that instance? We can only regulate those that don’t have building approval? Even banks now, if they don’t make provisions for sufficient car park, we don’t give them approval”.