Town Planning Laws in Zimbabwe Need a Major Revamp
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Town Planning Laws in Zimbabwe Need a Major Revamp

Experts are sounding the alarm that Zimbabwe's town planning and property development sector is being held back by an outdated legal system. At the recent Zimbabwe Smart Cities and Devolution Masterclass organized by Global Renaissance Investments (GRI) in Nyanga, attendees warned that the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act containing provisions from as far back as 1923 and 1933 is wholly unsuitable for modern times.


Joseph Kamuzhanje, the GRI board chairperson, did not mince words, stating flatly that "There is no way it will be able to resolve some of these problems 100 years later. No way."


An Archaic System Causing Widespread Issues


The failure to update these century-old planning laws is directly causing a myriad of serious issues across Zimbabwe's urban areas, according to the experts. Key problems highlighted include:

  • A lack of experienced planners and support staff due to the archaic legislative framework

  • Inability to incorporate updated data into planning decisions

  • Poor municipal service delivery with many suburbs lacking basic water reticulation

  • Uncontrolled horizontal expansion of cities exponentially increasing infrastructure costs

  • Invasion of open green spaces by unplanned development

  • Severe traffic congestion as road networks were never intended for such volumes

  • Widespread pollution of water sources, including those providing drinking water


Real estate expert Alexander Millin stressed that even the model building bylaws being used are decades out of date, having not been updated since 1977. This makes it extremely challenging to construct sustainable, climate-resilient buildings utilizing modern materials and designs.

The overarching consensus was that Zimbabwe's entire web of urban planning, land rights, environmental and mining regulations is in desperate need of an overhaul to properly manage development in the 21st century.


Legal Framework

While the experts were highly critical of the outdated legal framework, there was also acknowledgement of how an extended period of economic turmoil contributed to this neglect. As Kamuzhanje explained, "We have witnessed a poorly performing micro and macro economy. Urban residents (are) no longer able to pay for services."


This lack of municipal funding has created a vicious cycle underinvesting in staffing, infrastructure and updating regulations. However, he stressed that continuing to ignore this issue will only perpetuate decline, arguing "What is important is what we do now which definitely speaks to the review of these laws."


A Vision for Comprehensive Legal Reform


So what should a newly modernized legal foundation for Zimbabwe's urban areas entail? The suggested priorities include:

  • Embedding sustainable design principles and climate resilience into all building codes

  • Clarifying and strengthening land tenure rights to facilitate streamlined development

  • Alignment of environmental, mining and planning jurisdictions to reduce conflicts

  • Mandating genuine public consultation for major projects and planning decisions

  • Initiatives to train a new professional class of modern urban planners

  • Leveraging digital technologies like data analytics and GIS mapping for informed planning

  • Incentives and a national vision for transitioning to economically vibrant, sustainable smart cities


While a daunting undertaking, the experts made clear that comprehensively reforming Zimbabwe's outdated planning regime is an absolute necessity. Leaving the obsolete colonial-era framework in place would only exacerbate urban blight, environmental degradation and inefficient growth.


For property investors, developers and urban planners operating in Zimbabwe, this issue should be one to watch closely. The future viability and prosperity of the sector likely hinges on whether policymakers heed the call for such an ambitious legal revamp in the coming years.