The Marine Drive Project – A Planning Challenge

On Friday December 15, 2017, the President Nana Akufo Addo cut sod for the commencement of work on the Marine Drive Project in Accra, at a ceremony attended by chiefs, political leaders and the business community.  The project, which is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion, is a Public-Private Partnership project expected to transform the beachfront stretch from the Osu Christianborg Castle to the Arts Centre into a vibrant business and commercial enclave that will transform the city’s skyline, create jobs, spur tourism growth and boost the national economy. The project, covering an area of over 240 acres, is located within the ministerial enclave that serves multiple functions. Given the already congested environment among other militating factors, this report presents issues that planning authorities might want to consider in the siting of this massive infrastructure in order to preserve the functions of the earmarked area.

Ghana’s tourism sector is grossly underdeveloped, although the country possesses great potential for tourism development. Implementation of this project will therefore give a needed boost to the sector, propelling it to international standards. On completion, the Marine Drive project will have facilities such as hotels, malls, offices, casinos, and parking spaces. Other planned facilities include conference and exhibition centres, a beach soccer pitch, a mini golf course, an office complex for the Ministry of Tourism, etc. This level of investment will transform the earmarked area into a business, commercial and tourism hub that could improve the country’s competitiveness within the West African sub-region. The potential of a project of such magnitude is enormous and cannot be downplayed.

Again, Ghana’s coastline has been experiencing storm surges, which have gradually eroded significant amounts of land, thus the project is needed to control the effects of the sea action. Among the areas in Accra that are very vulnerable to tidal erosion are the Accra Central, Independence Square and Osu stretch of coastline, of which the earmarked area for the project forms a part. Given the magnitude of the project and the vulnerability of the selected location, the project will embank the shoreline for the successful preservation of the land.

The foregoing points notwithstanding, there are other development planning contexts that also need to be considered.  The ministerial enclave serves multiple functions. Firstly, it serves as the seat of government administration, accommodating the Osu Castle, which hosts about four ministries and other government institutions. Other government ministries and a number of government departments and agencies like the VRA, ECG, GWCL, etc., are found there. The Parliament House, offices of the members of parliament, and the law courts complex are also within the vicinity. Secondly, the environs of the enclave serve as a commercial area and economic hub. The World Trade Centre is located there, along with the presence of several banks. Vibrant trading activities also occur there. Lastly, with the presence of recreational and hospitality facilities as well as national monuments including the Supreme Court Complex, Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, Independence Square, the Accra Sports Stadium, the Osu Cemetery, the Accra International Conference Centre, Kempinski Hotel, the Mövenpick Ambassador Hotel, the Accra City Hotel, the Octagon, the National Theatre, the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park, World Trade Centre, etc., the Accra city centre serves as a tourism and hospitality enclave in its own right.

In spite of its multi-functional purpose, the general layout of the city centre presents a congested and haphazard arrangement which, projecting into the future, will need restructuring. On a typical day, there is a heavy flow of traffic towards the city centre in the morning due to the diverse services offered and the number of offices and commercial facilities within the area. While it is conventional to ensure that the central business district has mixed uses, situating the Marine Drive Project there will surely draw an additional amount of traffic to the city centre each day i.e., the current workers and constant visitors to the city centre, in addition to the tourists, workers, suppliers etc. of the Marine Drive facility, which defeats the idea of creating a balanced redistribution of the urban population. A traffic impact assessment must have been carried out, although it is not clear the number of vehicles expected at the city centre on a daily basis and how these would affect the work of the ministries. Research indicates that an economy with very efficient judicial, legislative and administrative systems improves the investment climate and produces greater total wealth; however, these same institutions can be rendered ineffective and inefficient because of the heavy traffic, construction processes, pedestrian movement and excessive commercialisation of the environs in which they are located.

Another issue to be pondered is the large number of government buildings to be demolished —more than three dozen buildings— that previously accommodated several government agencies, including the Ministry of Agriculture and its agencies, the agencies of the Ministry of Health, the regional offices of the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUSPA), formerly Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD), the Management Development and Productivity Institute, the Ghana Irrigation Development Authority, the Factories Inspectorate, the Births and Deaths Registry, etc.  There is the proposition of a high-rise building to be constructed within the vicinity of the Customs head office to accommodate these agencies, and this must be diligently done bearing in mind the congested area in which they would be working. How do we balance the movement of heavy equipment, materials and workers to and from the site along the logistics corridor now created through the Castle Drive, the Castle Roundabout and into the built-up Osu Township?

The project is anticipated to generate about 150,000 jobs, which is a very laudable outcome. However, the overbearing effect that this will have on the approximately 5,000 public sector workers in the area should not be underrated. The size of the public sector has doubled since 1995, and this is evident not only in the numbers of people employed in the sector, but also in the physical structures occupied by the sector. What looked like a quite serene ministerial zone in the nineties has now become a congested environment with several ministerial annexes, court facilities and parliament structures constructed, with vehicles, hawkers, lotto vendors, chop bar operators and food vendors choking up the place. Generally, the size of a public sector increases with increasing population and it is expected that the sector could double again in size within the next 30 years, when the population also doubles in size. The question to ponder is, how will the sector function with the nation needing public sector facilities that are more than twice the current size but having growth constrained by a huge commercial establishment on its doorstep?

Proceeding with the project in its current form means turning a ministerial and business (or economic hub???) area into a commercial and recreational district, which could congest the area further, slow down government business and delay legislative, judicial and executive functions. It should also be anticipated that the movement of construction machinery and materials would affect the quality of roads leading to the site. Construction workers would outnumber public sector workers by far, and food vendors will trail them in pursuit to the area, turning the zone into a pedestrian marketplace. Again, artists’ impressions of the project that have emerged show several high-rise structures situated adjacent to the Independence Square. With the Square being a national monument and a facility for State ceremonies including hosting visiting Heads of State, it is hoped that having high-rise buildings in close proximity to the Square would not pose security risks.

Ghana’s ministerial enclave was designed based on the UK model. The UK Parliament Square, like Ghana’s, accommodates the legislature, judiciary and executive. The buildings overlooking the square include two houses of parliament (the Houses of Commons and Lords), Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Government Offices, HM Revenue and Customs, the parliamentary estate and Westminster Abbey; almost the same institutions that are found in Ghana’s ministerial enclave.  Westminster Abbey, also known as The Church of England, is where all coronations of English monarchs have taken place and important national church services are held.  The proposed Ghana National Cathedral is likely to be Ghana’s own “Westminster Abbey”.

Again, in the same area in the UK, are situated the statues of 6 former prime ministers including Winston Churchill, and important global personalities such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. It is a controlled area bare of major commercial or business interests. Ghana’s enclave hosts the mausoleums of two former Presidents, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Prof. John Evans Attah Mills, and a few more could come up in the future. Where else could these monuments of the nation’s statesmen best be situated, except within the precincts of the institutions that house the legislature, judiciary and the public sector? The UK parliament area used to be congested, and featured London’s first traffic lights but the place was redesigned with the clearance of a substantial amount of structures to produce the current beautiful appearance.  Recent terrorists attacks within the vicinity of Westminster were largely contained because of the well-planned nature of the area.

The Ghana National Spatial Development Framework (2015) and the National Urban Policy (2012) both identify the overconcentration of growth and development in a few locations as a major challenge, and thus define strategies to facilitate a balanced redistribution of facilities and population. Therefore, Ghana must open up new development frontiers at other locations of the city to boost the capital’s competitiveness. State institutions like the LUSPA, formerly TCPD, the National Development Planning Commission and the Government itself must work with the developers and carefully envision the future development of the area, taking the long-term growth and expansion into consideration.  The project is largely a planning issue.

To avoid the conflicting situation at the ministerial enclave, the project could be situated in another location along Accra’s 40 km coastline stretch; for example, at Glefe, a slum settlement between the sea and the lagoon area near Dansoman in the Accra Metropolis, and the beautiful Densu River estuary. The sea is threatening to invade the area, and siting a project of such calibre there will remove the slum and correct the development failure. The small Glefe coastal community, popular for its serene beach line, now bears scars too appalling for human comfort, the effect of environmental degradation precipitated by hurriedly constructed structures to accommodate the teeming masses of new residents arriving in the city. Due to the ravaging action of the sea, most of the owners of these structures have abandoned them to seek prospects elsewhere. The government must step in and save the coastline.

The people of Glefe are calling for a sea defence project to protect the land that is being washed away, however, sea defence projects are currently outmoded. Coastlines that are ravaged by the sea are now put to other economic uses, such as ports, fishing harbours, water and boating sports, recreational facilities etc., with heavy State and private sector investments. The government should consider relocating the rest of the people and constructing major highways, and electricity transmission and water supply systems that would attract private investments into that area. Having a project of a magnitude like that of the Marine Drive project in an area like Glefe will create a new growth pole and new markets, free up more land for development and protect the coastline lands from sea erosion.

In conclusion, Ghana needs a good public sector to promote Government business.  It is said that if the private sector is the engine of growth, then the public sector is the oil that fuels the engine.  It is hoped that the planning authorities and the developers would work to address the challenges enumerated above.

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