Enacy Mapakame Property Reporter
Zimbabwe’s entire city-scape needs overhaul to improve competitiveness and attract investment in property and related infrastructure, town planning experts have said.
The country’s old properties or infrastructure built before and soon after independence from Britain no longer matched modern needs of business and the economy. In fact, town planers say the current structure of the country’s old cities was scaring investment into the multi-million dollar real estate industry.
The experts proposed a complete re-look at city laws to bring about changes that will cater for emerging business enterprises, now the heartbeat of economic growth, in all town planning.
Town planners said modern cities must be built with population growth in mind, to prevent situations obtaining in some of Zimbabwe’s cities, where too many people are putting pressure on infrastructure.
Multiple use of some of the cities’ buildings such as use as residential property, will also be essential as the buildings were initially made for small populations.
While companies like Old Mutual have realised this and coming up with infrastructure that can accommodate emerging trends in business such as the informal sector, more still needs to be done.
This came out at the recently held Zimreal Property Investment Forum where stakeholders agreed that the country’s urban planning regulations were outdated and no longer in line with the current economic set-up, which makes them uncompetitive to potential investors.
Identified as one of the country’s prime real estate locations, the Harare central business district was a key focus of all participants with numerous ideas and discussions raised on the need to re-package the CBD.
Over the past three decades, the country’s urban centres have suffered “decay”, making them unattractive to investors.
Fidelity Life Assurance of Zimbabwe, Property Investments general manager Gibson Mapfidza said the current urban blight and decay was as a result of a multiple factors that needed to be addressed holistically.
He cited the traditional zoning model and building designs, developed in the 1970s, 1980s, as old infrastructure that no longer suites the needs of the modern tenants who are now techno-survey.
“At a macro-spatial level, there is need to deal with our town planning laws, which are based on the traditional zoning model that separates land use zones. The operative Local Plan number 22 is outdated, and needs urgent review.
“It is the review that will inform or incite property owners to redress the micro-building specific design issues. Indeed the building infrastructure design is equally old and, as a result, inefficient for the space users.
“For instance, most of our buildings, designed and built in the 1970s, have the old solid floors making it difficult to route data cables. These buildings were designed in the pre-ICT era. They also do not have the modern ceiling voids and other intelligent building accessories,” he said.
Town planner and project manager Innocencia Tigere concurred that there was an urgent need to review planning regulation regarding the development of the country’s CBD buildings.
“Our governing plan is from the late 1990s. We need to look at mixed-uses and take inspiration from China and South Africa,” she said.
Lessons could be drawn from cities in China as well as Johannesburg where efforts have been made to repackage the cities in line with economic trends to keep them competitive and attractive for investors.
The plans will also help accommodate the increased number of businesses from the informal sector, which now constitute significant portion of the country’s economy.
In the past two decades, there has been a rise in the informal sector, vendors on pavements and roadways and illegal transport operators increasing the decay of the cities’ CBDs especially Harare.
This is also coupled with traffic congestion. Such factors have contributed to the increase in voids in the CBDs as businesses move to office parks and suburban areas, with average occupancy levels estimated at 50 percent.
Knight Frank Zimbabwe senior partner Amos Mazarire said the redevelopment of the CBDs, especially Harare, was an economic priority, in the face of dropping occupancy levels.
He however said the successful redevelopment of the CBDs was a long-term strategy, which required new ideas and strategies.
“It is inconceivable that, in the short to medium-term, the vacant space will be taken up for its original use.
“Therefore, pension funds should be considering alternative uses that is student accommodation and other residential purposes. Already, there has been an increase in above ground level accommodation being converted to retail use.”
The conversion to student accommodation and other residential uses may; however, prove to be prohibitively expensive and of limited use and demands he adds due to the high vacancy rates if planning is amended.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister July Moyo also said local authorities needed to go back to basics in complying with the laws to attract meaningful property and infrastructure investment into the country,
This, he said would be essential in creating a conducive environment that enabled investors to get a return on capital and how potential investors viewed the country’s cities, growth points and rural areas while identifying areas of opportunities to pour in their money.