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Land Prices Boom As Nairobi Grows South
[August 11, 2011]

Land Prices Boom As Nairobi Grows South

Aug 11, 2011 (The Nation/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- About five years ago, that expanse of land south of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was plain scrub, owned by various companies and ranches.

Its value was next to nothing as the owners knew nothing worthwhile could grow there and it would require at least one acre to keep five cows alive, but not productive.

The soil is black cotton, which becomes waterlogged when wet and develops large cracks when dry, meaning only the toughest crops can survive on it.

But this changed over the last five years and Syokimau, Katani, Ruai, Kamulu, Athi River and Lukenya have grown into Nairobi's newest estates, where the middle class now opts to settle.

Syokimau is typical of this new trend and land prices have climbed steadily from Sh800,000 for an acre five years ago to at least Sh9.6 million for an acre today.

These upper areas of Machakos County are a far cry from the scarcely populated south and highlight Nairobi's growth to the south, rather than north towards Kiambu.

Next door, Kajiado is undergoing a similar boom in land prices as it too becomes a dormitory area for the capital.

Mr Peter Ngau, a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi, said the spread of the city towards Machakos was intended when the Nairobi Master Plan was made in 1973.

"Although the plan indicated the area would be residential, it also demanded that there would be development of infrastructure. That was never done. I think the Government considered the infrastructure as a heavy investment and did not have the funds," said Prof Ngau.

The infrastructure has now begun to be developed with the expansion of Mombasa Road and the road to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport plus the development of the Eastern Bypass.

Kenya Railways (KRC) is building a line from JKIA into the city with a station at Syokimau, meaning in the future, residents will be able to avoid the traffic bottleneck at Nyayo Stadium roundabout.

KRC recently announced plans to acquire 13 acres to build parking lots so residents from as far as Athi River and Kitengela can park their cars there and take the train into the city.

Although the arterial roads are yet to be developed, the people have begun trooping in and putting up the elegant single and two-storey homes that dot the landscape.

Mr Justus Munene, a director of the city firm Daytons Valuers, also attributes the southward migration to the development of the roads and has noted the rapid increase in land prices.

"Prices there have doubled over the last three years, mostly due to rising demand. The relative stability of the Government in 2009, when people realised the Coalition would hold, also helped," he said.

Rural electrification was another factor, said Mr Munene, and city dwellers can move there confident they will not have to sacrifice the comforts of urban life.

But the growth of the area has also exposed the follies of unplanned development, characterised by buildings taking place before the roads, water, electricity and sewer lines.

Mr Munene said another boost for the area has been dissatisfaction with the corruption and inefficiency in land transactions at the city council and at Ardhi House, the Land ministry's headquarters.

"Transacting land in Nairobi District is riddled with a lot of pitfalls, the main one being corruption. In Mavoko, transactions are clear, land boards friendly and the title deeds are processed faster," he explained.

Prof Ngau said all was not lost for the area as Mavoko council was also beginning to catch up and settlers were required to play by the rules.

"In the end, it will be costly for the county government because it will still have to put up the infrastructure needed for residential areas," he added.

There will also have to be land set aside for public schools, shopping centres, health centres and other amenities such as police stations.

Prof Ngau said the biggest headache would be to deal with Mlolongo, where building is haphazard, the sewerage almost non-existent and the road network poor.

Mlolongo developed in the late 1980s when local leaders organised an invasion of the land initially set aside for the weighbridge, which the Government had delayed.

The division of the land into plots was therefore haphazard and without any of the necessary planning, and thus the mess characteristic of construction there.

Overall, the development of upper Machakos bodes well for the development of the county.

"Machakos, to me, is a metropolitan county. We can't consider it an entirely Kamba area. Many more people will come in and possibly even provide a swing vote in elections," said Mr Munene.

As more people move to that side of Machakos, the county government will have its work cut out as it deals with the reality that its upper side could very well be Nairobi's bedroom.

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