19 September 2012

Kenya: Ruiru Town Reaps From Superhighway

Stalls lined up on both sides of the main street that divides the town are the first sight when one steps into Ruiru.

In fact, one could easily dismiss it off as a small-time centre but for several bank branches in old buildings initially owned by Indians that give a serious impression of a commercial centre.

But all this is changing in this town 30km from the Kenyan capital Nairobi and 15km to Thika town after which the new superhighway is named.

The town is one of the many satellite centres in the outskirts of Nairobi that act as residential or dormitory towns, housing a substantive population that commutes daily to the city to work. The new road has eased commute time and created alternative residential options for city folk.

Besides its proximity to the city, Ruiru sits at the intersection of the Northern by-pass, which is currently under construction, and the superhighway.

The mayor of Ruiru Municipality Geoffrey Mwangi Kaara says its geographic position will attract loads of commerce, especially once the ongoing road constructions are completed.

The town is already home to several industries and agriculture. And huge residential projects have sprung up. These include the much fabled $2.5 billion Tatu City, which will be Africa's first privately managed and administered city.

Another development, North land City, is in also in the pipeline. Ruiru PCEA, a church, owns over 200 acres of land here on which it intends to build houses as well.

And now the local authority is working on a master-plan for sustainable urban development, to cope with the expected surge in residential real estate. Kaara says the council is keen on regulating growth and is particular on effecting this rule.

"We do not allow any sub-division of land below an eighth acre. On the other hand, all building plans must be approved by the council," he says. Depending on the location and soil type, an acre is priced at anything from Sh17 million.

The municipality's engineer John Kamau says the council is approving about 1,500 buildings plans annually. But he is worried that farmland may disappear soon if deliberate efforts are not made to secure it.

Ruiru town clerk Lesley Khayadi says the real estate boom may wipe out coffee estates within the local authority in two to three years time, unless owners are made to see the economic value of farmland over real estate.

"We do not want Ruiru to become a bedroom town and we have been liaising with residents' welfare associations in the area to minimise buildings for rentals. We should come up with a policy to stop people from losing farmland and show how it can become viable for the owners," said Khayadi.

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