Green Belts and Public Open Spaces in Tema – Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Tears

Tema, unlike the rest of the districts all over the country, can boast of two institutions that is responsible for planning and development control as stipulated in the Local Government Act 936 (2016) Section 12. This part of the act specifically deals with the political and administrative responsibilities of District Assemblies i.e., Tema Metropolitan Assembly. Many developers have complained about the duplication of roles in Tema between the TDC Development Company Limited and the Tema Metropolitan Assembly. It would have been expected that this duplication would ensure a better development control. For the citizens of Tema, that is far from what we experience.

Who has the overall oversight responsibility of Tema?

The local Tema jargon of “comity”stands for community. If your umbilical cord was cut in Tema or lived within the “communities”,this is a question many residents and developers ask. Any architect who has attempted to make a submission within the TDC Acquisition Areas would tell you about double complianceproblems faced in planning and building permissions for our clients. The strict adherence to standards and regulations by TDC would have been understandable if some of their poor planning decisions over the years were not made. It is important that the general public, especially those living in Tema, get a better understanding of the TDC/TMA dilemma.

Tema Development Corporation (TDC) was set up by a Legal Instrument in 1952 with the key responsibility to plan and develop approximately 163 square kilometers of public land for various land uses under a 125-year lease. Additionally, they were to manage the township and provide housing and accommodation to those engaged in various economic operations. This involves coming out with planning schemes, providing infrastructure such as roads, drainage, street lighting, sewerage systems etc. In 2017, TDC was converted to a Limited Liability Company with enhanced mandate that allows the new TDC Development Company Limited (TDCDCL) to go into consultancy services and even go outside Ghana for real estate development and management.

The Tema Metropolitan Assembly (TMA) is set up to operate with key responsibility as any District Assembly. The responsibility of TMA as stated in the Land Use and Spatial Planning Act 925 (2016) Section 12 (4),is to execute approved development plans. They are to guide, encourage and support sub-district local structures, public agencies such as TDCDCL and perform their functions in the execution of approved development plans. In simple terms, whatever initiatives any agency comes up with, needs to be reviewed and approved by the TMA. This includes change of land use, planning and building permissions.

For example, if TDC decides to sell a parcel of land to any developer, regularly, TDC needs to formally make their application to the TMA to review and concur prior to implementation. This will enable TMA to have updated land uses and plan for the complementary infrastructural that is needed to support the land use to be planned for and implemented. The key question is whether the TMA over the years have had the full complement of technical expertise to carry out its mandate i.e., Engineers, Planners, Architects etc. Without an experienced team of experts carrying out their mandate will be a tall order. The Built Industry Professionals have in other areas collaborated with the Assemblies. It is these complexities, in my opinion, that has led to many problems in the Tema metropolis.

For now, Tema metropolis is becoming an undesirable place to live and work. The indiscipline in the development of structures and how the two institutions condone these developments, that residents see as a complete nuisance, is unthinkable. Every land available is being sold for development with no stakeholder consultation as required by the Local Government Act 936 (2016).It is difficult to clearly identify the planning philosophy of the evolution of Tema and who is leading. Our Tema, as we have now, is simply appalling.

Our City Managers should ask themselves what makes city experience enjoyable, exciting and a source of pride for its residents. The answer is not farfetched; clean, beautiful streetscapes, urban gardens and many more. There must be orderliness in buildings and landuse which is the special legal mandate given to the city managers. Again, when these officers get the opportunity to travel to other beautiful places around the world, does it prick their conscience to come back and do same or better?

Destruction of Green Belts and Public Open Spaces

Green belts and public open spaces in urban areas have great benefits to our cities. Public landscape areas usually act as carbon sinks and also serve as recreational areas. You would be forgiven to reminisce the days of small-post soccer. Public Open Areas also serve as assembly point when there are disasters.

The development replacing these open spaces does not pay attention to the context and adverse impact. Our green belts and public open spaces are being sold out at an alarming rate. The taking-over of such spaces for development is not just wrong but also robs the community of these qualities that makes a city lively and livable. The sad story in Tema is that when neighbourhoods are disrupted in this manner, there is no avenue for redress whatsoever.

There are so many examples of spaces taken over by such unwanted and unwarranted development that is begging for audience. Community 7, C-Road area is a low-income residential area. A large area of that part of Tema is occupied by staff of the Ghana Police Service and some retired public servants who have lived there for more than 50 years.

There is an area of approximately 2 acres that until 2009 was left open. Then suddenly, fence walls and shops sprung up. The residents started a protest and there was absolutely no response from neither TMA nor TDCDCL. In other jurisdictions where residents’ views are respected, developments are not imposed without adequate consultation. That is what civilized societies do; they engage stakeholders.

A two-storey structure and cold store built on a public open space that is being a nuisance to residents.

Whilst the complaints to the TDC and TMA were on-going, a developer was given a permit to develop a Cold Store right in the middle of the Public Open Space. The operations of the Cold Store bring in heavy trucks and now the road is completely destroyed and barely motorable. Waste water from the cold store runs through this residential area causing untold problems to neighbours. Planning initiative and Development Control at its lowest. It is hard to believe that such a building was able to pass an Environmental Impact Assessment and therefore a Planning and Building Permit. Someone must act.  

Buildings under pylons in the open view of GRIDCO

Spaces under High-Tension Pylons are supposed to be left unbuilt. Wherever a High-Tension Pylons run, about 100 feet on either side along the run of the transmission line is ends up being a reservation. It is usually green. The use of this space from observation has various temporary uses including urban agriculture, fitting shops and commercial flower gardens. However, in Tema Community 10, on a part of the Herman-Gmeiner Road-Monte Carlo Junction, permanent structures have been built right under a High-Tension Pylon. These structures accommodate Barber Shops and a restaurant with permanent garden Chairs. Is GRIDCO watching?


Under what circumstances can an application for change of use or request for re-zoning happen?

Many residents of Tema wonder what goes into effecting a change of landuse from what has been published. Especially in such circumstances where the change of land use results in more adverse impact. The Land Use and Spatial Planning Acts 925 Section 93 1 to 4 states as follows:

Application for change of use or request for re-zoning 93.

  • Where a person seeks to change the zoning of the whole or part of a piece of land, that person shall apply in writing to the District Spatial Planning Committee of the district to which the change relates in the form prescribed in the zoning regulations and planning standards. 
  • The request for re-zoning or change of use of land shall be accompanied with a report prepared by a professional planner. 
  • A District Spatial Planning Committee shall not grant a request for change of the existing zoning or land use unless the request is intended to make the zoning of the land comply with the structure plan or zoning scheme or local plan. 
  • Without limiting subsection (3), the change of use or re-zoning of a public space shall be subjected to approval by Parliament.

From sub-section 4 of the Section 93, the approval of change of land use cannot be executed unless the application is made by a planner, must comply with the specific approved zoning and MUST be approved by the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana. This is so since 2016 this law has been applicable some of these changes to existing land uses needs to be examined whether the process has been respected. Again, it will be interesting to investigate to find out if any applications have been made to Parliament since 2016. If it there is any, it would be educative to see the process it goes through for approval. Would a comprehensive stakeholder engagement take place prior to the approval? 

It is almost impossible to list all the omissions with respect of planning, re-zoning and development control by TDC and TMA. They are so many and so varied that it is clear that development control is either getting out of hand or beyond the capacity of TMA. Shops with Temporary Permission that should have lasted for a year are quickly removed after a while and re-constructed with blockwork and nobody lifts a finger. Shops have been constructed within green belts and areas that falls part of Road Reservations and authourities look unconcerned.

  • Why are authourities ambivalent about the mess that is so obvious?
  • Could it well be that people are so compromised that their best action is inaction?
  • If Tema cannot get it right, can any other city get it right?

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required – Winston Churchill

God bless our homeland Ghana.

Tony Asare | September 1, 2021